In 1949 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted Convention No. 98 concerning the Right to Organise and to Bargain Collectively. Since then, the convention has been ratified by 166 countries. The right to collective bargaining is a fundamental labour right that ensures a fair process of negotiation to further and protect the interests of workers and employers. The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work especially declares the effective recognition of right to collective bargaining as a fundamental labour right. The right to collective bargaining in conjunction with the freedom of association is the main condition for a working system of social dialogue within a state.

The right to collective bargaining is a labour right, but too is considered a human right since the right is protected in several core international human rights treaties. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948, the right to collective bargaining is proclaimed in article 23 section 4. Additionally, the right to collective bargaining is affirmed in article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In section 1 of this article it is stated that everyone has the right to form and join trade unions for the promotion of one’s economic and social interests. This part of the article proclaims the right to collective bargaining.

Furthermore, the ILO Convention No. 98 is dedicated to the right to collective bargaining. The most important norm is set in article 4. In article 4 establishes that states have to take the necessary measures to encourage and promote the full development and utilisation of systems for voluntary negotiation between workers' organisations and employers' organisations. In addition, the right to collective bargaining is recognised as the third principle of the Labour Standards of the United Nations Global Compact. The goal of the Global Compact is to promote sustainable business by offering companies to incorporate the ten principles of the United Nations Global Compact.The status of the right of collective bargaining is a fundamental labour right recognised in the ILO Declaration subsequently also incorporates the right in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Finally, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which too is directed at guiding the conduct of business enterprises, in article 1 states that enterprises should respect the right of their employees to have trade unions and representative organisations of their own choosing recognised for the purpose of collective bargaining, and that enterprises should engage in constructive negotiations, either individually or through employers' associations, with such representatives with a view to reaching agreements on terms and conditions of employment. In article 2, the OECD Guidelines also state that the enterprise should provide the facilities to worker's representatives as to assist in the development of effective collective agreements, and provide the information necessary for meaningful negotiations on the conditions of employment. 

In a regional context, the European Social Charter states that all workers and employers have the right to bargain collectively in article 6. It places the positive obligations on Contracting Parties to ensure the effective exercise of this right through promoting the joint consultation between workers and employers, to promote the machinery for voluntary negotiations between employers or employer organisations and employees or employee organisations, to promote the machinary for conciliation and voluntary arbitration in cases of labour disputes, and to recognise that employees have a right to collection action, including the right to strike. 


Codes of Conduct addressing Collective Bargaining