European Scrutiny Committee Contents

10 Ratification of the Convention on Safety in the use of Chemicals at Work



COM(912) 677

Draft Council Decision authorising Member States to ratify, in the interest of the European Union, the convention concerning Safety in the use of Chemicals at Work 1990, of the International Labour Organisation Convention

Legal baseArticle 114 TFEU, in conjunction with Article 218; consent; QMV
Document originated20 November 2012
Deposited in Parliament28 November 2012
DepartmentWork and Pensions
Basis of considerationEM of 11 December 2012
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentLegally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information awaited


10.1 The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, responsible for drawing up and overseeing international labour standards, and is a 'tripartite' agency, bringing together representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programmes. Its broad policies are set by the International Labour Conference (ILC), which adopted in June 1990 a Chemicals Convention, the purpose of which is to prevent and reduce chemically induced illnesses and injuries at work and to enhance the protection of the general public and the environment. As of June 2012, the Convention had been ratified by 17 State parties to the ILO, including a few EU member states,[34] but not the UK.

The current proposal

10.2 The Commission considers that further ratification of the Convention by ILO State parties who are also Member States of the EU would affirm the Union's commitment to promote work in this area, both internally and in its external relations, and send an important signal as to the coherence of EU policy in improving labour standards worldwide. However, as the EU is itself not a State party to the ILO, it is not able to ratify the Convention, and the Commission has proposed that the Council should agree a Decision which would:

  • establish that EU legal provisions do not present an obstacle to Member State ratification of the Convention; and
  • authorise Member States, in relation to those parts of the Convention falling within EU competence under the TFEU, to ratify the Convention.

The Government's view

10.3 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 11 December 2012, the Minister for Employment at the Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Hoban) notes that competence in relation to the internal market, social policy and environment all fall within the shared competence of the EU and Member States, and that, to the extent the EU has exercised its competence in such areas, Member States cannot do so. However, he points out that, in this case, the EU cannot act because it is not a party to the ILO Convention and is reliant on Member States to act on its behalf. The purpose of this draft Decision is therefore to provide legal cover to Member States to enable them to act in a way in which they would not otherwise be able to do.

10.4 The Minister says that the Government is surprised that the Commission has decided to bring this issue to the fore now, as this was neither expected nor predicted. He adds that the Convention itself is over 20 years old, and that the proposed Council Decision raises complex issues which the Government will need time to consider fully. These include:

  • examination of the implications of the Convention for the UK, in particular, understanding which areas are solely matters of EU competence and which areas are of mixed EU and Member State competence, as there may be policy implications that will need to be considered; and
  • understanding the meaning and implications of the Commission "authorising" Member States to ratify the Convention.

10.5 The Minister observes that the Government considers that Decisions such as this (authorising Member States to ratify) are not binding, although it recognises that Member States have a duty to co-operate with the EU in carrying out its tasks. He also notes that the Convention allows ratifying parties to maintain more stringent requirements, and that current UK standards relating to the safe use of chemicals at work exceed the minimum standards laid down in the Convention. This will be taken into account when considering ratification options for the UK.

10.6 The Minister also examines why the UK has not so far ratified the Convention. He says that documents from the time suggest that, when this was considered in the early 1990s, it was concluded that the general principles underlying the Convention were in line with existing UK legislation, but that some of the requirements could be met only when various other EU Directives had been implemented in the UK. His understanding is that it was decided that the decision on ratification and acceptance would be taken in concert with other Member States in the Council.


10.7 Although the ratification of this Convention would not appear to have many practical implications for the use of chemicals at work in the UK, it is clear that there are a number of potentially complex competence issues involved. We are, like the Government, particularly concerned about the necessity for a Council authorising Decision, and look forward to the conclusions of the Government's further analysis. In view of this, we think it right to draw these issues to the attention of the House, but we propose to hold the document under scrutiny, pending further information from the Government once it has considered these issues more fully.

34   Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Sweden (in the latter case before joining the EU). Back

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Prepared 2 January 2013