04.01 Introduction

04 International Labour Law

At the international level, the standards of the International Labour Organization (ILO) have played an important role since its foundation in 1919, i.e. at the beginning of industrialisation (s. Chapter 04.02 History of work). The corresponding principles are reflected in national labour laws. The ILO and its labour standards are therefore the focus of this chapter.

Terms «labour/labor law», «employment law»

In the field of labour law, the terms «labour law» (Brit.) or «labor law» (Am.) and «employment law» are used. The term labour/labor law is generally used for mandatory, usually public or international law, the term employment law is generally used in private law or private employment relationships.

Involved parties

In the area of public, and in some cases also private labour law, four or three parties are involved: the labour authorities; the employers, rarely represented by employers associations; the workers, usually represented by trade unions (or just «unions»). When these three actors (authorities, employers, unions) interact in some way, it is called «tripartite». In Switzerland, for example, representatives of the authorities, employers and unions monitor the labour market and check compliance with so-called standard employment contracts.

Types of labour rules

If one wants to assess a relationship under labour law, one must know what legal basis underlies it. There are four types of labour rules that are applied according to a hierarchy.

First, the mandatory public (in Switzerland primarily the Labour Act, no official translation in English) and mandatory private law (in Switzerland primarily the Code of Obligations) must be applied to an employment relationship. These rules cannot be modified, or at most can be modified in favour of the employee within the framework of an agreement.

An important factor in the Swiss working world is the social partnership between employers and trade unions. The liberal Swiss labour law gives the latter the possibility to negotiate their own rules in various areas. Such agreements are called collective agreements. In principle, these rules apply exclusively to members of the unions. However, the Swiss Federal Council can declare these rules to be generally binding. In principle, the rules become law and are applied to all workers in the relevant industry. These rules then become second in the hierarchy.

Third in the hierarchy, the employment contracts concluded individually between employers and employees are applied to the corresponding employment relationships.

At the very end of the hierarchy is the dispositive labour law. These rules apply unless the parties have agreed otherwise. The latter is generally the definition of the legal term «dispositive law».

04 International Labour Law