Internationalization of Social Law

In 1952, the International Labour Conference passed a convention on minimum standards in social security. The convention was considered a milestone in international social law. However, Switzerland only ratified the convention in 1977.

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In 1952, the Swiss delegates to the 35th International Labour Conference in Geneva approved Convention 102 on minimum standards in social security. The International Labour Conference constituted the main body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) founded in 1919. Following the dissolution of the League of Nations, the ILO became a special organization of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. The tripartite allocation of national delegations consisting of representatives of government, employees and employers was retained for the regular conferences. Although Switzerland was not a member of the UN at the time, it remained a member of the ILO in 1945.

The ILO was based on the concept that the cooperation of employers, unions and the state formed an essential prerequisite for a lasting peace in industrial relations. It was therefore committed to harmonizing the social policies of member states. Efforts to define minimum standards for social security began in 1948. Convention 102 was passed in June 1952. It stipulated standards for nine insurance domains (medical provision, old age, disability and maternity protection etc.). Adherence to these standards was examined according to statistical criteria (such as regarding the number of people entitled to benefits and the level of the benefits). 

Though the Confederation delegates agreed to the convention, its ratification proved problematic for Switzerland. The Federal Council maintained that the country only fulfilled the requirements in the area of accident insurance. Disability insurance had not yet been introduced and AHV pensions were set too low. The Federal Council, however, denied that this meant there was insufficient ‘social protection’ in the country. In fact, it argued the ‘new international instrument’ failed to take into account the ‘specific circumstances of Switzerland’. It was not until 1977 that Switzerland finally ratified the first parts of Convention 102, with the exception of the section governing daily sickness allowance – which remains to this day beyond the scope of Swiss social insurance law. Ratification was therefore delayed until after the establishment of disability insurance (IV) in 1960, the important reforms of old age provision in 1972 and the implementation of family allowances at the cantonal level.

Literatur / Bibliographie / Bibliografia / References: Kott Sandrine, Droux Joëlle (2013), Globalizing social rights. The International Labour Organization and beyond, Basingstoke; Kneubühler Helen Ursula (1982), Die Schweiz als Mitglied der Internationalen Arbeitsorganisation, Bern.