The Right to Work

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948) recognizes work as a fundamental right:

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
UDHR Article 23.1

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966) expands on this definition, adding “the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts” and recommends its realization by “… technical and vocational guidance and training programmes, policies and techniques … under conditions safeguarding fundamental political and economic freedoms to the individual.” (Article 6:[2])

The right to dignified and fulfilling work is essential for realizing other human rights such as:

  • The human right to receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.
  • 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 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.[1]

Related Human Rights Instruments