United States Explanation of Vote in Favor of Postponing the International Labor Conference to June 2021
On March 30, 2020, the Director-General of the International Labor Organization (ILO)—with the concurrence of the Officers of the ILO Governing Body (GB) and the tripartite Screening Group comprising regional coordinators for all ILO member States —sent a ballot to all GB members seeking their views on his recommendation to postpone the 2020 International Labor Conference (ILC) to June 2021 in light of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The communication included a paper drafted by the ILO Secretariat arguing, inter alia, that the situation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic justified postponing the ILC on the basis of force majeure, notwithstanding a requirement in the ILO Constitution to hold the ILC annually. The ILO paper argued that available alternatives, such as holding a virtual ILC or convening the ILC in a reduced format later in 2020, were not feasible. As precedent, the paper cited the postponement of the 26th Session of the ILC from 1940 to 1944 due to World War II.
On April 4, 2020, the GB Secretariat reported the results of the vote: 88 in favor, one abstention, and no votes against, with 33 members not responding. The GB Chair interpreted the responses as the consensus of the GB to decide to defer the ILC to June 2021 and to cancel the GB sessions that were to have been held immediately before and after the ILC.
The United States issued an Explanation of Vote (EOV), reproduced below. Other States also issued statements emphasizing the extraordinary circumstances and the material impossibility of convening the ILC in 2020.
Below is the U.S. EOV:
Through our vote today, as a Governing Body member, the United States expresses its agreement with the recommendation to postpone the 109th Session of the International Labor Conference until June 2021. We concur that the unforeseeable situation prevailing globally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic renders it materially impossible to hold the Conference this year, not least owing to the practical inability of conducting virtually a conference that involves the participation of thousands of government, employer, and worker representatives from nearly all 187 ILO member States. Our vote in favor of postponement should be understood in this unique context, and should not be regarded as support for the idea that the Governing Body possesses a general implied power to dispense with annual sessions of the Conference notwithstanding Article 3 of the ILO Constitution. We look forward to the day when we can again convene as an Organization to address the many important issues in the world of work.