Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
. -- WORKING PAY
of the 1929 Convention stated that the working rate of pay was to be fixed by agreements between the belligerents; prisoners of war were not to be paid, however, for work connected with the administration, internal arrangement and maintenance of camps. Pending the conclusion of such agreements, which were also to specify the proportion of pay that might be retained by the camp administration and the manner in which payment was to be made, work was to be paid for either according to the rates in force or according to rates agreed upon between the employers and the military authorities. Any pay remaining to the credit of a prisoner was to be remitted to him on the termination of his captivity or, in case of death, remitted to his heirs.
In fact, no such agreements were concluded between the belligerents during the Second World War, and the wages of prisoners of war were in practice left entirely to the discretion of the Detaining Power; they therefore varied considerably.
Moreover, Article 34
did not fix the proportion of the wages which the Detaining Power was authorized to retain, and on this point also, prisoners of war were subject to arbitrary decisions. Nevertheless the sums withheld from them were seldom excessive, and in accordance with the practice followed by all the belligerents, in the spirit of the Convention, these sums were in fact spent on the maintenance of the prisoners of war (1).
In the reports which it submitted to the Conference of Government Experts, the International Committee of the Red Cross proposed that Paragraph 1 of Article 34
should be amended, in order that prisoners [p.314] of war continuously employed on camp administration or artisanal work might receive wages. The Conference of Government Experts supported the proposal and made an appropriate recommendation (2).
It was also proposed that Article 34, paragraph 3
, which allowed the camp management to make deductions from the wages of prisoners of war, should be deleted. This proposal was accepted. With regard to the rate of pay, the International Committee of the Red Cross considered that prisoners of war should receive the same pay as civilian workers of the Detaining Power, but the Conference of Government Experts did not agree with that suggestion. It recommended that the rate of pay should never be less than one-quarter of a Swiss gold franc for a whole day's work and that the Detaining Power should notify to the Government on which prisoners of war depended, through the Protecting Power, the rate of wages it might determine. It also recommended that as soon as prisoners of war commenced work, they should be informed of the salary they would earn, as well as the method of payment and the manner in which they might make use of it.
Lastly, it will be noted that the 1949 text speaks of "working pay" and not "wages". The drafters of the new Convention considered that the word "wages" should be used to denote only the remuneration of a civilian worker responsible for maintaining himself and his family out of his wages, and that it was not appropriate for the case of a prisoner of war who was fed and housed at the expense of the Detaining Power; the term "working pay" was therefore considered more suitable (3).
PARAGRAPH 1. -- DETERMINATION OF RATE OF WORKING PAY;
1. ' First sentence. -- Determination of rate of pay; payment '
A. ' Amount of working pay '. -- The amount must be "fair", that is to say it must be established impartially and must correspond to the services rendered.
During the Second World War, prisoners of war in Germany received varying rates of pay according to the nature of the work. In the industries and trades, they received 60 per cent of the rate paid to claim Workers; in agriculture, they received a Very small daily Wage but they Were fed and housed by their employer. In the United [p.315] States of America, the general rate was eighty cents per day, except where prisoners were paid according to results, the latter method being followed wherever possible (4).
In point of fact, the only way of determining whether the Working rate of pay is "fair" is to compare it with the rate paid to civilian labourers for similar work, while taking into account that prisoners of war are not always specialized in the work they have to perform, and do not have to pay for their own maintenance out of what they earn. The drafters of the Convention decided not to specify the exact working rate of pay for prisoners of war, but they did fix a minimum amount: in accordance with the present paragraph, at no time may the rate be less than one-fourth of one Swiss franc for a full working day (5). As in the case of advances of pay, the reference is to the Swiss paper franc, not the Swiss gold franc, and what has already been said in connection with Article 60
applies also to the present provision.
B. ' Authority responsible for determining the working rate of pay '. -- Pursuant to Article 12
, the Detaining Power is responsible for prisoners of war in all circumstances; that responsibility is unaffected by any contractual arrangements which may be made with private employers concerning the work of prisoners of war. It is therefore right and proper that the present paragraph should state that the rate shall be fixed by the detaining authorities, but the latter are naturally free to come to an agreement with the private employers on the subject.
C. ' Payment '. -- Working pay must be paid directly by the military authorities in the currency of the Detaining Power (6); if prisoners of war have to pay for their purchases at the canteen in camp money, they must receive their working pay in camp money. The Convention does not state how frequently payment should be made; one may assume, however, that in this respect the Detaining Power would follow the customary practice for civilian workers doing similar work in the country of detention. This is in fact directly implied by Article 51, paragraph 2
, which requires the Detaining Power to ensure that the national legislation concerning the protection of labour is applied to prisoners of war who work.
[p.316] Prisoners of war may make use of the money which they earn within the general limits outlined in the Convention. It may also be credited to their account, in accordance with the provisions of Article 64
. This will apply, at least as a temporary measure, pursuant to Article 58, paragraph 1
, which states that the Detaining Power may determine the maximum amount of money that prisoners may have in their possession.
Lastly, prisoners may transfer funds according to the provisions of Article 63
2. ' Second sentence. -- Prisoners of war and the Power on which they
depend to be informed '
This requirement corresponds to the legal provisions concerning the protection of labour for civilian workers, which must also be applied to prisoners of war, pursuant to Article 51, paragraph 2
The Power on which the prisoners depend must also be informed, through the intermediary of the Protecting Power. This opens a possibility for reciprocal treatment, although the Convention does not expressly say so.
PARAGRAPH 2. -- CAMP WORK
The rate of advances of pay for other ranks is comparatively low, and the reason is precisely that they can augment their financial resources by working; all prisoners fit for work must therefore be given paid employment (7). This principle is respected by the present provision, which states that prisoners of war permanently detailed to duties within the camp -- and who are therefore not available for other work -- must receive working pay from the Detaining Power.
There is, however, yet another reason for this provision; in accordance with Articles 15
, the Detaining Power is responsible for providing prisoners of war with accommodation free of charge, according to certain minimum standards. It is, therefore, also responsible for ensuring that everything necessary is done in order to maintain [p.317] those standards in the camp, and the implication is that the Detaining Power must pay for such work, whether it is done by prisoners of war or by other workers.
The duties concerned are the following:
(a) work done by prisoners of war which relieves the Detaining Power of
camp administration (for example, work in the camp commander's
(b) other domestic service: Work in the kitchen, laundry, infirmary, etc.
(c) maintenance and installation work, building, repairs, etc. (9)
(d) spiritual and medical assistance given on a full-time basis by
prisoners so assigned (chaplains, doctors).
On the other hand, no payment is to be made for fatigues which prisoners of war take turns in doing in the morning or evening as part of their daily routine (10).
No payment is due for any Work which prisoners do voluntarily in order to improve their quarters or other installations, unless such work relates to the maintenance of the premises according to the minimum standards stated in the Convention.
As for the rate of pay, the rule in the first paragraph states that it may at no time be less than one-fourth of one Swiss franc for a full working day, and this certainly applies also to prisoners who work in the camp. Payment will be made once or twice a month according to the rules in force in the corresponding civilian trades, or at the same time as the advance of pay.
[p.318] PARAGRAPH 3. -- WORKING PAY OF THE PRISONERS'
REPRESENTATIVE AND HIS ASSISTANTS
It Would have been unjust not to grant Working pay to the prisoners' representative, his advisers, if any, and his assistants, for their task is a difficult one which calls for devoted service. As a general rule, however, their Working pay will be paid not by the Detaining Power, but out of the canteen profits. It may seem surprising that the Convention empowers the prisoners' representative to fix the scale of working pay for himself and his assistants, though subject to approval by the camp commander. One may assume that in including this provision, the drafters of the Convention intended to rely on the discretion of the prisoners' representative in fixing the scale of his working pay, since it is paid out of a fund established by the prisoners themselves. It should also be remembered that, because of his position, the prisoners' representative enjoys certain material facilities which are not available to other prisoners. His working pay should therefore not be higher than that of other categories of workers.
The last sentence provides that if there is no fund maintained by canteen profits, the Detaining Power must pay these prisoners a "fair" working rate of pay. This term appears also in the first paragraph. The provision was not adopted without difficulty, however, at the 1949 Diplomatic Conference; several delegations feared that it might make it possible for the Detaining Power to bring pressure to bear on the prisoners' representative (11). This danger will not exist, however, if the pay of the prisoners' representative is fixed on the basis of the average amount paid to other prisoners of war.
* (1) [(1) p.313] Delays in payment of wages sometimes occurred,
however; for further details, see ' Report of the
International Committee of the Red Cross on its activities
during the Second World War, ' Vol. I, pp. 286-289;
(2) [(1) p.314] See ' Report on the Work of the Conference of
Government Experts, ' pp. 160-161;
(3) [(2) p.314] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A. p. 557;
(4) [(1) p.315] See ' Report of the International Committee of
the Red Cross on its activities during the Second World
War, ' Vol. I, pp. 286-289;
(5) [(2) p.315] For the duration of a working day, see the
commentary on Article 53;
(6) [(3) p.315] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 539;
(7) [(1) p.316] At the 1949 Diplomatic Conference, one
delegation nevertheless proposed an amendment providing
that any prisoner receiving working pay should not receive
his army pay, which should either be paid directly to his
assignees in his country of origin, or be handed over to
him at the end of his captivity. This proposal was
rejected. (See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference
of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, pp. 280 and 538);
(8) [(1) p.317] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 540;
(9) [(2) p.317] In this connection the following amendment was
proposed at the 1949 Diplomatic Conference: "Working pay
shall likewise be paid by the Detaining Power to prisoners
of war who are employed regularly on work which is
primarily for the benefit of the Detaining Power". (See
' Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of
1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 542.);
(10) [(3) p.317] Ibid., p. 540. Fatigue duties are also
referred to in Article 89 by way of disciplinary
(11) [(1) p.318] See ' Final Record of the Diplomatic
Conference of Geneva of 1949, ' Vol. II-A, p. 541;