ICAO and the International Labour Organization


The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) dedicated to improving labor conditions and living standards throughout the world. The ILO secretariat (staff) is referred to as the International Labour Office.


Switzerland - William Tell

Overprint for the ILO

The ILO has its roots in the social matrix of nineteenth-century Europe and North America. It is in these regions where the Industrial Revolution began, generating extraordinary economic development, though often at the price of intolerable human suffering and social unrest. Humanitarian, political and economic motives for international labour standards led to the foundation of the ILO. The ILO Constitution was written between January and April 1919 by the Commission on International Labour, constituted by the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice. The Constitution contained ideas tested within the International Association for Labour Legislation, founded in Basel in 1901.


At its origin, the ILO was an affiliated agency of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations between the two world wars. During the twenty-year period from 1919 to 1939, 67 Conventions and 66 Recommendations were adopted by ILO. The ILO is the only surviving major creation of the Treaty of Versailles.


Detailed arrangements concerning the privileges and immunities of the League of Nations were worked out between the Secretary-General of the League and the Swiss Federal Council, through the "Modus Vivendi" of 1921, as supplemented by the "Modus Vivendi" of 1926. An agreement was concluded on 11 March 1946 between the Swiss Authorities and the ILO to regulate the legal status of the International Labour Organisation in Switzerland after the dissolution of the League of Nations. Under those agreements, the Swiss Post Office overprinted stamps (or issued special stamps) primarily for the official use by the ILO. 


ILO Emblem – The letters are surrounded by an interrupted cogwheel, reflecting the tripartite structure. Adopted in 1969 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary.

In 1944, Delegates to the International Labour Conference adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia, USA, which, annexed to the Constitution, still constitutes the Charter of the aims and objectives of the ILO. In 1946, the ILO became the first specialized agency of the newly formed United Nations. In 1969, while it commemorated its 50th anniversary, the Organization received the Nobel Peace Prize for improving peace among classes, pursuing justice for workers, and providing technical assistance to other developing nations.


The ILO has always been a unique forum in which the governments and social partners of its Member States can freely and openly discuss experiences and compare national policies. Its tripartite structure makes the ILO unique among world organizations in that employers’ and workers’ organizations have an equal voice with governments in shaping its policies and programmes.


ILO has been headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland since 1920, except the period 1940-1948, when it was located in Montréal. ILO’s Governing Body had made the necessary arrangements to ensure that activities continued even in the event of war. The fact that Switzerland was surrounded by German occupation troops nevertheless placed the Organization in a precarious situation and left it with no choice but to establish a centre of activity outside Geneva. The ILO Director, John G. Winant, was adamant that it should not become the instrument of totalitarian States. In August 1940, with the outbreak of the Second World War, on the generous invitations of the Government of Canada and McGill University, the Canadian Government officially agreed to the temporary transfer of ILO staff. Forty staff members from 18 countries were transferred. Another group remained in Geneva to continue making the necessary arrangements, while the rest returned to their countries as national correspondents or were posted to branch offices with a view to collecting information of interest to the Office in connection with labour matters. ILO set up its offices at McGill’s Morrice Hall (3485 McTavish Street, Montréal) from May to November 1940 and then at 3480 University Street (and later on 3450 Drummond and 3540 Mountain (now de la Montagne) until 1948 when ILO moved back to Geneva. During the war, ILO maintained offices in Geneva, New Delhi and Caracas.


A commemorative plaque was unveiled at McGill University (in Sir William Dawson Hall) in Montréal on 14 September 1950, recording the lasting gratitude of ILO to McGill University: “To this campus the International Labour Organisation transferred its wartime headquarters in 1940 on the generous invitations of the Government of Canada and McGill University. From here the I.L.O. directed its work of furthering world peace through social justice until 1948. This tablet records the lasting gratitude of the I.L.O. to McGill University”.


On various occasions, discussions had been held between ICAO and IL0 on the respective responsibilities and interests of the two Organizations in regard to conditions of employment in civil aviation. Those aspects of employment conditions affecting the safety or reliability of service obviously fell within ICAO’s field of action, while the social aspects were of interest to ILO, but the two aspects are not always readily separable in particular cases. 


A Memorandum of Understanding between the Director-General of the ILO and the President of the ICAO Council was signed in October 1953 concerning the establishment by ILO of a Joint Aviation Commission which had been submitted to them by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) for the purpose of advising ILO on questions within its competence. ILO and ICAO would continue to be represented at each other's meetings as necessary and consult each other regularly for the fullest interchange of information and views on matters of common interest. The trend of discussion in the IL0 Governing Body favored the convening of ad hoc meetings to discuss employment or working conditions in civil aviation, rather than the creation of a permanent committee as originally proposed.


ILO has been a powerful force since the 1920s for raising and maintaining the living and working standards of workers round the world and is guided by the principle that social stability and integration can be sustained only if they are based on social justice, particularly the right to employment with fair compensation for a healthy workplace. The International Labor Office (ILO or BIT in French, Bureau International du Travail) is the permanent secretariat of the International Labor Organization. It is the focal point for International Labor Organization's overall activities, which it prepares under the scrutiny of the Governing Body and under the leadership of the Director-General.


There has been an increased urgency among international policy-makers, particularly in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis of 2008, to deliver quality jobs along with social protection and respect for rights at work to achieve sustainable, inclusive economic growth, and eliminate poverty. During the UN General Assembly in September 2015, decent work and the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda – employment creation, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue – became integral elements of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The ILO's Decent Work agenda helps advance the economic and working conditions that give all workers, employers and governments a stake in lasting peace, prosperity and progress. The importance of decent work in achieving sustainable development is highlighted by Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.


Under the new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on 16 March 2022, ICAO and the ILO will work to leverage off their complementary efforts and policy coherence within their respective mandates for global aviation and labour, with the ultimate objective being more effective support to States now seeking to achieve the UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Effective immediately, the MoU will assure improved ICAO/ILO progress on gender equality and sustainable development through a wide variety of joint activities, encompassing research, technical meetings, technical advisory services, training, and collaboration on the development of guidelines, tools and methodologies.

“ICAO’s conclusion of this agreement with the ILO responds to the ICAO Assembly’s Resolutions on the UN Agenda 2030 SDGs and gender equality, which call for new partnerships within the UN system in support of enhancing aviation contributions to sustainable development, and for the demonstration of strong, determined leadership and commitment towards advancing women’s rights,” remarked President Sciacchitano.

The 2019 ICAO Assembly Resolution A40-21, Aviation’s Contribution Towards the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, underscores how ICAO’s work to support States’ enhancements to the safety, security, sustainability and connectivity of the global air transport system directly contributes toward the achievement of the SDGs.

An earlier 2016 Assembly Resolution A39-30, on the ICAO Gender Equality Programme, had also stressed how ensuring equal opportunities for women within the aviation sector provides a crucial opportunity to drive broader progress towards gender equality.


6 January 1942 – Service cover from ILO Headquarters in Montréal (at McGill University). In fact, although ILO had already moved at that time to 3480 University Street, this mail used the stationery leftover from the period when the Organization was hosted at McGill University.


28 February 1944 – Service cover from ILO Headquarters in Montréal (at 3480 University Street) to the remaining office in Geneva.


ILO’s Offices at McGill University.


Cover sent from the UN Preparatory Commission to ILO Office in Montreal, Canada. Cancelled on 11 November 1945. The Church House in London became the headquarters of the United Nations Preparatory Commission, and in 1946, the temporary headquarters of the United Nations Secretariat.


Card sent from ICAO to ILO’s Head office located at 3480 University Street, requesting comments on the quality of shipping as a new wrapping machine was installed at ICAO Headquarters.


7      February 1945 - Mail send from ILO Office in London the ILO Headquarters to 3480 University Street, Montréal. ILO was established in 1919 as part of the League of Nations.


Bronze plaque reminding of the presence of the ILO at McGill University, Montréal given to this University in recognition of its hospitality during war time. It was unveiled at McGill University on 14 September 1950.


India – 15 June 1959 – 40th anniversary of ILO.

The cachet makes reference to the tripartite structure of the ILO.

Emblem of the ILO as designed in 1943-44: black letters on a white background, the letters slightly overlapping the triangle.


Mail sent to Dr. Warner on service cover from the International Labour Office, Geneva. 

Postmarked on 14 November 1954.


Argentina – Second Thematic Philatelic Exhibition (TEMEX ’60) held in Buenos Aires from 4 from 9 December 1960. During this exhibition, a total of 12 covers were released paying tribute to the United Nations, its Programmes and Specialized Agencies; all covers are similar except for the emblem, the colors of the UN Buildings in New York and the date of release. These covers were issued on different dates ranging from 4 to 9 December 1960; the above cover related to ILO was dated 9 December 1960.


Service cover sent from the BIT (Bureau International du Travail) to ICAO.

The slogan commemorates the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the BIT (1919-1969).

Postmark dated 19 November 1969.


Togo – ILO’s 50th anniversary. Miniature sheet issued on 24 January 1970.

The English acronym in the emblem is ILO, whereas it becomes OIT when used for the French (Organisation internationale du Travail) and Spanish (Organización Internacional del Trabajo) names of the Organization.


Service cover sent to ICAO from a Technical Assistance project through the UN pouch.

Postmark dated 24 December 1970.

Slogan showing the first anniversary of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to ILO in 1969.


Philippines – 24 October 1994 - United Nations Day

The United Nations commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the International Labour Organization (ILO), along with the International Year of the Family in 1994 and the 50th anniversary of ICAO.


United Nations – ILO 100th anniversary stamps.

Excerpt from the LINN’S Stamp News weekly journal, 24 June 2019, Vol. 92, No. 4730, Page 14.