ILO Tribunal : is it still worthy of our trust ?

The Administrative Tribunal (AT) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) is the successor of the League of Nations Administrative Tribunal, created as a judicial tribunal to ensure to officials the firm conviction of safety and security emanating from justice, provide a judge for internal disputes, and preclude the possibility of one of the parties being a judge in his own cause. For European Patent Office (EPO) labour disputes, the ILO-AT is the only external legal instance.

Extent of jurisdiction

The applicable law, under the ILO-AT Statute, is formally limited to the terms of appointment and service conditions of the organisation concerned. But the ILO-AT’s case law on this point has been
inconsistent; in some judgments, general principles of law and human rights have been considered
as additional sources of law, in others they have been excluded. The Tribunal does not order interim relief. Witnesses can give written statements but their cross-examination is not possible. Since 1989, the ILO-AT has declined to hold any oral hearings. The Tribunal has no means of enforcing judgments.

The Tribunal has recently changed its approach concerning general decisions. While Staff Committee members could, in the past, challenge general decisions directly, it now seems that general decisions (legislative decisions) may no longer be challengeable at all. Concerned employees must now wait until an administrative decision implementing a general decision, eg a career reform, produces a direct adverse effect on them, eg through a missed promotion that was due, visible on a payslip. This has as a consequence that every staff member must file an individual appeal instead of a staff committee member filing a model appeal for all. The number of internal appeals has thus since exploded. Another consequence is that many general decisions, eg decisions changing governance rules, may no longer be challengeable, even if they are presumably illegal.

Detailed analysis in EPO-FLIER #38