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The Human Right to Work and the Human Rights of Workers
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Related pages:
The Human Right to Livelihood & Land

The Human Rights of Migrant Workers

Women & the Economy

Human Rights & Work | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Human Rights and Work

What is the Human Right to Work? What are the Human Rights of Workers?

The Human Right to Work is the human right of all women, men, youth and children to dignified, creative and productive labor, free from discrimination and exploitation, enabling all persons to live in peace, security, justice and dignity. All workers have human rights to basic labor protections. Engagement in any kind of production should be fruitful and rewarding.

The Human Rights at Issue

The human right of all persons to dignified and fulfilling work includes the following universal, indivisible, interconnected and interdependent human rights:

  • The human right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.

  • The human right to a standard of living adequate for well-being, health and life.

  • The human right to equal access to productive resources, including land, credit, and technology.

  • The human right to freedom of association.

  • The human right to protection from forced labor.

  • The human right to adequate, safe working conditions.

  • The human right to a clean and safe environment.

  • The human right to reasonable limitation of working hours, rest and leisure.

  • The human right to education and access to information, including vocational training.

  • The human right to freedom from discrimination based on race, sex, or any other status, in all aspects of work, including in hiring and promotion.

  • The human right to equal pay for equal work.

  • The human right to freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • The human right to proper consideration of women=s reproductive rights and sexuality, including job security during and after pregnancy, flexible working conditions, and access to child care.

  • The human right to protection during pregnancy from work proven to be harmful.

  • The human right to equal rights within the family, including shared responsibilities for children's upbringing.

  • The human right to unemployment protection and social security.

  • The human right of indigenous peoples to maintain their own ways of life, including the right to use lands to which they have traditionally had access for subsistence.

  • The human right to protection for the child from economic exploitation and from any work that may be hazardous to his or her well-being and development.


    Human Rights & Work | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

    Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Work and the Human Rights of Workers

    What provisions of human rights law guarantee the Human Right to Work and the Human Rights of Workers?

    Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ILO Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100), the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111), the ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 38), the ILO Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (No. 87), the ILO Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98), the ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29), the ILO Employment Policy Convention (No. 122), and the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169).

    "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.... Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.... Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours.... Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family ... and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability ... or other lack of livelihood ...."
    --Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 4, 20, 23, 24, and 25

    "The States Parties ... recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts.... The steps to be taken ... to achieve the full realization of this right shall include technical and vocational guidance and training programmes.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... just and favourable conditions of work which ensure ... fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind...; a decent living ...; safe and healthy working conditions; equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted ...; rest, leisure, and reasonable limitation of working hours .... the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice ... for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests...; the right to strike... the right ... to social security.... Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth. During such period working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits.... Children and young persons should be protected from economic ... exploitation. Their employment in work harmful to their morals or health or dangerous to life or likely to hamper their normal development should be punishable by law.... States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family...."
    --International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

    "No one shall be held in slavery .... No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.... The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized.... Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association ..., including the right to form and join trade unions...."
    --International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 8, 21, and 22

    "States Parties shall take all appropriate measures ... to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, ... the right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings; the right to the same employment opportunities...; the right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and ... training; the right to equal remuneration ... and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value...; the right to social security...; the right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall ... prohibit ... dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination ... on the basis of marital status;... introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment.... States Parties shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular ... the right to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit.... States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas ... to ensure ... the right ... to obtain all types of training and education ... in order to increase their technical proficiency ...; to have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform ...."
    --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 11, 13, 14

    "States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination ... and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law ... in the enjoyment of ... the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association...; the rights to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to just and favourable remuneration; the right to form and join trade unions...."
    --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5

    "States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.... the right ... to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.... the right ... to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.... States Parties shall ... provide for a minimum age ... for admissions to employment.... provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment.... States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation...."
    --Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 15, 27, 32, and 34

    "Each Member shall ... ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value."
    --ILO Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100), Article 2

    "Each Member ... undertakes to declare and pursue a national policy ... to promote ... equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating any discrimination.... Each Member ... undertakes ... to promote such educational programmes as may ... secure the acceptance and observance of the policy...."
    --ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111), Articles 2 and 3

    "Each Member... undertakes to pursue a national policy ... to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.... The minimum age ... shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.... The minimum age for admission to any type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardize the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years...."
    --ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 38), Articles 1, 2, and 3

    "Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and ... to join organizations of their own choosing.... Each Member ... undertakes to take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure that workers and employers may exercise freely the right to organize."
    --ILO Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (No. 87), Articles 2 and 11

    "Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment...."
    --ILO Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98), Article 1

    "Each Member... undertakes to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms...."
    --ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29), Article 1

    "With a view to stimulating economic growth and development, raising levels of living, meeting manpower requirements and overcoming unemployment and under-employment, each Member shall ... promote full, productive and freely chosen employment.... The ... policy shall aim at ensuring that: (a) There is work for all who are available for and seeking work; (b) Such work is as productive as possible; 8 There is freedom of choice of employment and the fullest possible opportunity for each worker to qualify for ... a job ... irrespective of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin...."
    --ILO Employment Policy Convention (No. 122), Article 1

    "Indigenous and tribal peoples shall enjoy the full measure of human rights and fundamental freedoms without hindrance or discrimination.... No form of force or coercion shall be used.... The peoples ... shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives ... and the lands they occupy ... and to exercise control ... over their own economic, social and cultural development.... [G]overnments shall respect the special importance ... of their relationship with the lands....The rights of ownership and possession ... over the lands which they traditionally occupy shall be recognised. In addition, measures shall be taken ... to safeguard the right ... to use lands ... to which they have traditionally had access for their subsistence and traditional activities...."
    --ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169), Articles 3, 7, 13, and 14


    Human Rights & Work | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

    Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Work and the Human Rights of Workers

    What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Work and the Human Rights of Workers?

    Includes excerpts from the ILO Declaration of Philadelphia, and commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.

    " ... labour is not a commodity; freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress; poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere;... All human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity.... The attainment of the conditions in which this shall be possible must constitute the central aim of national and international policy...."
    --ILO Declaration of Philadelphia

    "A specific anti-poverty strategy is ... one of the basic conditions for ensuring sustainable development. An effective strategy for tackling the problems of poverty, development and environment ... should begin by focusing on resources, production and people.... Integral to such action is ... direct action in eradicating poverty by strengthening employment and income-generating programmes.... Governments should ... implement ... programmes to support ... equal employment opportunities and ... remuneration for women ... with adequate economic, political and social support systems and services, including child care, ... equal access to credit, land...."
    --Agenda 21, Chapter 3, para. 2; Chapter 29, para. 7; and Chapter 24, para. 3

    "We commit ourselves to promoting ... full employment as a ... priority of ... economic and social policies, and to enabling all men and women to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods.... We will ... put ... creation of employment, ... reduction of unemployment and ... promotion of ... adequately remunerated employment at the centre of strategies and policies of Governments, with full respect for workers' rights...."
    --Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 3

    "We are determined to ... promote women's economic independence, including employment, by ... ensuring equal access for all women ... to productive resources, opportunities and public services;... ensure women's equal access to economic resources, including land, credit, science and technology, vocational training, information, communication and markets, as a means to further the advancement and ... empowerment of women and girls...."
    --Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 26 and 35

    "The eradication of poverty is essential for sustainable human settlements. The principle of poverty eradication is based on ... the objective of meeting the basic needs of all people ... as well as the objective of enabling all women and men to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods through freely chosen and productive employment and work."
    --Habitat Agenda, para. 28


    For more information, please contact PDHRE

    The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
    Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
    526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
    tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
    e-mail: pdhre@igc.org