131st Session of the ILOAT: A snapshot into the mind of the Tribunal

The Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization (ILOAT) deals with cases commenced by international employees against the international organisations they are employed with and that have recognized its jurisdiction. Nearly 60,000 international civil servants from 57 different international organisations rely on the judgements of this Tribunal in case of a labour dispute. The volume of cases at the Tribunal show no sign of decreasing, so in this month’s blog, we thought we would take a closer look at the most recent session, potential trends and any points of interest arising from the judgments published.

What is the ILOAT?

The ILOAT is the successor to the Administrative Tribunal of the League of Nations, which was responsible for lawsuits against the secretariat of this organization between 1927 and 1946. From 1947 onwards, the Tribunal expanded its activities significantly.

Today, it deals with cases of current and former civil servants of the International Labour organisation as well as many other international organisations that refer their disputes to the ILOAT as a court of last resort.

The Tribunal is composed of seven judges, all of different nationalities, appointed for a renewable period of three years, who meet in Geneva twice a year. In its short history thus far, the Tribunal’s case law comprises over 4,300 judgments issued over a number of sessions.

131st Session in numbers

The first part of the 131st session was held from 18 October to 6 November 2020. Having dealt with 40 cases, the ILOAT adopted 37 judgments concerning 51 complaints. In total, 39 complaints were filed from 16 different organisations. The second part of the 131st session took place from 9 December 2020 to 15 January 2021. The ILOAT dealt with 40 cases and adopted 19 judgments during this session. The 41 complaints were filed by 39 complainants from 14 organisations.

General remarks

The outbreak of COVID-19 is affecting litigation and other forms of dispute resolution in all different kind of ways. Apart from the obvious physical restrictions of court closures and an increased use of remote hearings, working from home has stretched the registry staff and IT systems in place. Unlike the UN Dispute Tribunal and Appeal Tribunal, the ILOAT does not have any electronic filing system and previously only accepted hard copy filings of complaints.

The pandemic has meant that, for the first time, the 131st session did in fact allow electronic filing of pleadings. While we remain hopeful that this will continue into the future – both for the sake of efficiency and the many trees that fall victim to these proceedings – we expect that the Tribunal might revert to hard copies in the coming months.

In general, the Tribunal has dealt with far fewer cases compared to last year. In the 130th session, the Tribunal dealt with 106 cases, whereas in the 131st session, there were only 56 cases. This drop could be attributed not only to the physical difficulties with filing a complaint, but also the potential suspension or extension of deadlines and perhaps even a general reduction of complaints during the pandemic. The number of judgments adopted remained almost the same as last year (58 in the 130th session compared to 56 in the 131st session).

Statistical analysis

We decided to run a statistical analysis of the judgments from the 131st session to see if we could identify any trends, and noted that:

  • Total number of judgments = 56
  • Number of judgments dismissed = 43, i.e. 77% of total judgments
    • Of these, the number of judgments dismissed for a procedural error = 11, i.e. 26% of the dismissed judgments
    • Judgments which requested review of a previous ILOAT judgment = 5
    • Number of judgments dismissed because the Tribunal decided in favour of the organisation = 32, i.e. 74% of the dismissed judgments
  • Number of judgments decided in favour of the complainant employee = 13, i.e. 23% or 1 in 5 of total judgments.
    • Of these judgments, the number of judgments where damages were awarded = 12, i.e. 92% of the judgments in favour of employees
    • Range of damages awarded = €2,500 – €55,000
    • Legal costs were awarded in every case ranging from €400 to €8,000
  • The subject matter of these judgments included such things as harassment, post classification, performance evaluation, selection procedures, disciplinary procedures and termination of contract.

Potential trends? 

So what are some of the conclusions we can draw from the numbers above? It would seem that in most cases the ILOAT favours the organisation. This tendency also appears to be based on substantive issues – in other words, the Tribunal rules in favour of the organisation on legal grounds more often than when it finds cases are irreceivable.

This is a good thing, as it means that most cases before the Tribunal meet the procedural requirements to have exhausted all forms of dispute resolution within an organisation before they reach the ILOAT. But the fact remains that the majority of judgments are still ruled against the employee.

It is harder to comment on whether this is good, bad or anything in between because each case has to be considered on its own facts, what issues were raised with the Tribunal and the evidence relied upon by the parties. It would not make sense to compare the outcome of a disciplinary or harassment case to that of reclassification of post. To consider any patterns or trends in this respect would require an analysis of cases according to subject matter, or a more general statistical analysis across multiple sessions of the ILOAT. Leave a comment below if this is something you would like us to examine in more detail!

Turning then to the judgments that were ruled in favour of the employee, they do not necessarily demonstrate a trend as the basis for making the findings would vary from case to case. However, it is incredibly encouraging to see the Tribunal awarding damages and legal costs, no matter how small. This is not just a matter of money! Awarding material damages reflects that the employee was able to substantiate monetary loss, and awarding moral damages shows that the Tribunal has given weight to the impact of such things as embarrassment, humiliation, loss of opportunity and reputational loss suffered by the employee. As for legal costs, this also aligns better with the principle in national jurisdictions that a proportion of costs should be awarded to the winning party as a matter of course.

Do you think any other conclusions can be drawn from the 131st Session? Are you aware of similar trends from other sessions or in other Tribunals? Let us know by leaving a comment below!