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What is the Right to Work?

The right to work gives everyone the opportunity to earn a living wage in a safe work environment, and also provides for the freedom to organize and bargain collectively. The right to work does not guarantee that every person will have a job; rather, it means that governments are required to take effective steps to realize the right over time. States violate the right when they either fail to take those steps or when they make the situation worse. This right prohibits the use of compulsory or forced labor.

What are the minimum requirements?

  • Freedom of Association: Everyone has a right to join free trade unions. Unions have the right to strike and function freely
  • No discrimination: Discrimination in access employment is strictly prohibited, including distinctions, exclusions, restrictions, or preferences, in law or practice, on the grounds of race, color, sex, nationality, political opinion, social origin, or age. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or class should also be prohibited
  • No arbitrary dismissal: Arbitrary dismissal is prohibited, and there must be adequate domestic resources for redress if a worker is arbitrarily dismissed

  • Equal pay for equal work: There must be equal pay for equal work, meaning that no two people working the same type of job can receive different salaries. There must be adequate remedies to address any such inequalities
  • Adequate minimum wage: There must be machinery for fixing, monitoring, and enforcing equitable minimum wage levels that are geared to the cost-of-living index.
  • Equal Opportunity: There must be equal opportunity for promotion
  • Right to Rest: Rest and leisure: there must be a reasonable limitation of working hours, periodic holidays with pay, and remuneration for public holidays.

As with every human right, the right to work entails the following obligations:

  • Respect ??? the obligation to respect requires governments to refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of the right to work
  • Protect ??? the obligation to protect requires governments to prevent third parties, such as corporations, from interfering in any way with the enjoyment of the right to work
  • Fulfill ??? the obligation to fulfill requires governments to adopt the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of the right to work

See also CESR's Fact Sheets on the Right to Work: