Back to rights and freedoms: right by right
Introduction | ICESCR provisions | Other instruments | Commission work | More information | Comments
Rights in this area in Australia are addressed principally through specific industrial legislation such as the Fair Work Act and work health and safety legislation. However, the Commission also has important responsibilities, including by reference to
- the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Article 5e(i));
- the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Article 11);
- the Convention on the RIghts of the Child (Article 32);
- the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 27)
- as well as the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (ILO 111).
Within the 1966 human rights Covenants, the right to work and rights in work are addressed principally by the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
Right to work | Just and favourable conditions of work | Trade union activity
Right to work
ICESCR Article 6 states:
- The States Parties to the present Covenant 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, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.
As noted in the Attorney-Generals Department Guidance Sheet in this area, the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights has stated that the right to work
affirms the obligation of States parties to assure individuals their right to freely chosen or accepted work, including the right not to be deprived of work unfairly. This definition underlines the fact that respect for the individual and his dignity is expressed through the freedom of the individual regarding the choice to work, while emphasizing the importance of work for personal development as well as for social and economic inclusion
and includes the following elements
- countries must have specialised services to assist and support individuals in order to enable them to identify and access available employment.
- the labour market must be open to everyone. In particular, there can be no discrimination in access to and maintenance of employment on the grounds enumerated in article 2 of ICESCR, namely race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, which has the intention or effect of impairing or nullifying exercise of the right to work. Age should be considered to be a status on which discrimination under article 2 of ICESCR is prohibited. Limiting the work entitlements of non-citizens would not constitute unlawful discrimination under article 2 of ICESCR.
- there should be physical accessibility to employment for people with disability.
- the right to work should be protected, by providing the worker with just and favourable conditions of work, in particular to safe working conditions, the right to form trade unions and the right freely to choose and accept work.
- the right also encompasses the right not to be unjustly deprived of work, requiring security against unfair dismissal.
- but does not equate to a guarantee of full employment. The Committee recognises the existence of international factors beyond the control of countries, which may hinder the full enjoyment of the right to work in many countries.
Just and favourable conditions of work
ICESCR Article 7 states:
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular:
(a) Remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with:(i) Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work;
(ii) A decent living for themselves and their families in accordance with the provisions of the present Covenant;(b) Safe and healthy working conditions;
(c) Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted in his employment to an appropriate higher level, subject to no considerations other than those of seniority and competence;
(d ) Rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays
Trade union activity
ICESCR Article 8 states:
- The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure:
(a) The right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others;
(b) The right of trade unions to establish national federations or confederations and the right of the latter to form or join international trade-union organizations;
(c) The right of trade unions to function freely subject to no limitations other than those prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others;
(d) The right to strike, provided that it is exercised in conformity with the laws of the particular country.
- This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces or of the police or of the administration of the State.
- Nothing in this article shall authorize States Parties to the International Labour Organisation Convention of 1948 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize to take legislative measures which would prejudice, or apply the law in such a manner as would prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention.
This Article is closely related to the right to freedom of association recognised in ICCPR Article 22. While the Attorney-General's Department notes that there is no settled international law on whether there is a right within ICESCR not to be compelled to join a trade union or professional association, it should be noted that ICESCR Article 8 refers to a persons's right to join the trade union "of his choice".
CEDAW | Convention on the Rights of the Child | Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
CEDAW Article 14 states:
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:
(a) The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings;
(b) The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment;
(c) The right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and all benefits and conditions of service and the right to receive vocational training and retraining, including apprenticeships, advanced vocational training and recurrent training;
(d) The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work;
(e) The right to social security, particularly in cases of retirement, unemployment, sickness, invalidity and old age and other incapacity to work, as well as the right to paid leave;
(f) The right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction.
2. 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 take appropriate measures:
(a) To prohibit, subject to the imposition of sanctions, dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;
(b) To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances;
(c) To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through promoting the establishment and development of a network of childcare facilities;
(d) To provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them.
3. Protective legislation relating to matters covered in this article shall be reviewed periodically in the light of scientific and technological knowledge and shall be revised, repealed or extended as necessary.
Extensive materials relevant to equal opportunity for women in employment are available in the sex discrimination area of this site.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
CRC Article 32 provides:
- States Parties recognize the right of the child 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 take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:
(a) Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;
(b) Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;
(c) Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the present article.
More information is being added to the Children's Rights section of this site.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
CRPD Article 27 provides:
1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. States Parties shall safeguard and promote the realization of the right to work, including for those who acquire a disability during the course of employment, by taking appropriate steps, including through legislation, to, inter alia:
a. Prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to all matters concerning all forms of employment, including conditions of recruitment, hiring and employment, continuance of employment, career advancement and safe and healthy working conditions;
b. Protect the rights of persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to just and favourable conditions of work, including equal opportunities and equal remuneration for work of equal value, safe and healthy working conditions, including protection from harassment, and the redress of grievances;
c. Ensure that persons with disabilities are able to exercise their labour and trade union rights on an equal basis with others;
d. Enable persons with disabilities to have effective access to general technical and vocational guidance programmes, placement services and vocational and continuing training;
e. Promote employment opportunities and career advancement for persons with disabilities in the labour market, as well as assistance in finding, obtaining, maintaining and returning to employment;
f. Promote opportunities for self-employment, entrepreneurship, the development of cooperatives and starting one’s own business;
g. Employ persons with disabilities in the public sector;
h. Promote the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector through appropriate policies and measures, which may include affirmative action programmes, incentives and other measures;
i. Ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities in the workplace;
j. Promote the acquisition by persons with disabilities of work experience in the open labour market;
k. Promote vocational and professional rehabilitation, job retention and return-to-work programmes for persons with disabilities.
2. States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities are not held in slavery or in servitude, and are protected, on an equal basis with others, from forced or compulsory labour.
Information on issues and Commission work in this area is available via the employment pages in the Disability Rights section of this site.
- Submission on Registered Organisations Bill (Word) or PDF (2000) regarding discrimination in rules of registered organisations
- See also material on employment related issues in the sections of this site dealing with racial discrimination, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, age discrimination as well as pages on information for employers