Decent work

The United Nations Economic and Social Council has given a General Comment[1] that defines "decent work" and requires satisfaction of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: decent work is employment that "respects the fundamental rights of the human person as well as the rights of workers in terms of conditions of work safety and remuneration. ... respect for the physical and mental integrity of the worker in the exercise of his/her employment."

Decent work is applied to both the formal and informal sector. It must address all kind of jobs, people and families. Decent work is a multidimensional concept because it touches the humane grounds. It is implicit in the meaning of the job or income is good, meet one's expectation and those of one's community and at the same time, it is not exaggerated and is falling within the reasonable aspirations of reasonable people.[2]

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), decent work involves opportunities for work that are productive and deliver a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

The ILO is developing an agenda for the community of work, represented by its tripartite constituents, to mobilize their considerable resources to create those opportunities and to help reduce and eradicate poverty.[3]

The ILO Decent Work Agenda[4] is the balanced and integrated programmatic approach to pursue the objectives of full and productive employment and decent work for all at global, regional, national, sectoral and local levels. It has four pillars: standards and rights at work,[5] employment creation and enterprise development,[6] social protection[7] and social dialogue.[8]

The Sustainable Development Goals also proclaims decent work for sustainable economic growth.[9] The Goal aims to increase labor productivity, reduce the unemployment rate, and improve access to financial services and benefits. Encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation are key to this, as are effective measures to eradicate forced labour, slavery and human trafficking. With these targets in mind, the goal is to achieve full and productive employment, and decent work, for all women and men by 2030.[10]


Although few disagree with the Decent Work Agenda in principle,[citation needed] actually achieving Decent Work poses challenges and controversies. In Africa, for example, informal employment is the norm, while well-paying jobs that offer social-protection benefits are the exception.[11] The Decent Work Agenda requires national and international actors to commit to the objective of creating quality jobs globally and to pursue cooperative solutions to this challenge. However, governments struggle to convince their publics that development and job creation abroad is imperative to prosperity and employment at home. Some governments also face the temptation to close markets and lower labor standards to remain competitive in a world economy that is blamed for depressing wages and working conditions.

Various actors can affect the provision of Decent Work, although existing conditions and incentives do not always lend themselves to advancing the Decent Work Agenda. To illustrate:

  • National governments create Decent Work through economic and industrial policies. However, the forces of globalization – such as downward pressures on wages and reduced macroeconomic policy flexibility – have diminished the ability of national governments to achieve this goal on their own.
  • Businesses create jobs from the local to international levels, and those operating across borders can affect international wages and working conditions. Multinational enterprises typically locate operations in countries where wages are at their lowest and so called "worker's rights" are less prominent. This is antithetical to the Decent Work Agenda, although it does contribute to economic development.
  • Trade unions assist employees in advocating for elements of Decent Work, from a so-called "living wage" to health insurance to workplace safety standards. Trade unions face the challenge of meeting their members’ immediate needs at home while supporting job creation and "workers’ rights" around the globe.
  • International financial institutions provide loans or other assistance to national governments, and require loan recipients to implement certain policy measures. Existing programs generally exclude employment targets and have even been known to reduce job creation in the short term, as jobs which exist only through government market distortions are replaced with economically viable employment.
  • Trade negotiators can forward the Decent Work Agenda globally by including labor standards in trade agreements, while legislators (among others) can support their implementation. However, many countries view the campaign for labor standards as an effort by other countries to make their own industries more competitive.