top of page

Workers' rights is an essential part of human rights

International labour standards give expression to human rights at work, including the right to work; the right to social security; the right to safe and healthy working conditions; the right to fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value; the right to rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay; and the right to maternity protection. The protection of rights at work is an integral part of fulfilling human rights obligations.

Are all international labour standards human rights?

International labour standards (ILS) made by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are international law and form part of the international human rights norms and standards landscape.

They provide the details for practical implementation of human rights obligations in the world of work. For example, the UN Covenants proclaim the right to freedom of association, while the ILO Conventions No. 87 andNo. 98 and the compilation of decisions of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association provide for detailed rights emanating from this fundamental freedom with regard to the right to organize for workers and employers.

ILO and UN bodies monitoring the implementation of mutually supportive rights regularly cite each other’s decisions.

Are ILO standards human rights?

All ILO standards contribute to the realization of economic, social and cultural as well as civil and political rights. The protection of rights at work is an integral part of fulfilling human rights obligations.

Some ILO standards directly express human rights while others set benchmarks for the labour market institutions that are necessary for realizing human rights at work.

What rights has ILO designated as fundamental?

The1998 Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as amended in 2022, highlights five principles as so fundamental that they have to be realized even when the country concerned has not ratified the relevant Conventions. These are:

  • freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining

  • the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour

  • the effective abolition of child labour

  • the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation; and

  • a safe and healthy work environment (added in 2022).

How do human rights relate to social justice?

Social justice appears as the foundation of universal and lasting peace in the first line of the preamble of the ILO Constitution , much in the same way as the UN Charter connects human rights and fundamental freedoms with the maintenance of international peace and security and solving international problems of an economic and social nature. Social justice was confirmed as an imperative in the ILO’s 2019 Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work . The 1998 Declaration suggests that social justice may be understood as the aspiration, “through which every working man and woman can claim freely and on the basis of equality of opportunity their fair share of the wealth that they have helped to generate.”

How can social justice be achieved?

Social justice can be achieved by putting “workers’ rights and the needs, aspirations and rights of all people at the heart of economic, social and environmental policies,” as stated in the Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work. To this end, the continuous and concerted action of governments and representatives of employers and workers is essential.

Four strategic objectives are central to achieving social justice through the promotion of decent work: promoting full, productive, and freely chosen employment; arranging for social protection; organizing social dialogue; and realizing fundamental principles and rights at work.

What is the role of social dialogue in respect of international labour standards and human rights?

Social dialogue embodies the human rights principles of participation and inclusion: representatives of employers and workers have the right to participate in decisions which affect work-related rights and interests. Participation of the social partners is essential to ensure their labour market experience and inputs are fully taken into account and secure their full cooperation in formulating and enlisting support for policies and decisions. Often in the world of work, steps towards realizing human rights at work originate within the context of social dialogue.

Do businesses have to respect human rights at work?

In 2011 the UN Human Rights Council endorsed theUN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights . These state: “The responsibility of business enterprises to respect human rights refers to internationally recognized human rights – understood, at a minimum, as those expressed in the International Bill of Human Rights and the principles concerning fundamental rights set out in the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.”

The Tripartite declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy (MNE Declaration) is the ILO instrument that provides direct guidance to enterprises on social policy and inclusive, responsible and sustainable workplace practices. The guidance is founded substantially on principles contained in international labour standards, and on obligations that States have through their ILO membership and following their ratification of ILO Conventions.



bottom of page