IN THE CANDID CORNER: The right to work
Enjoy your career, however humble . . . it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. – Max Ehrmann (1872-1945)
The privilege of having a job to go to every day is a special one.
In fact, your job, your profession, becomes an extension of your personality. It is part of who you are. From time immemorial, it was ordained this way.
There is a danger in defining oneself in terms of what one does. But work, career, job, brings dignity and fulfillment to life. In fact, those of us who accept the creation story endorse the concept that “by the sweat of man’s brow he shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19).
So, from the outset, God advocated work as an avenue for human dignity.
Volumes have been said and written about work over the years. The Desiderata advises that you should “keep interested in your own career, however humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time”.
Someone has said that if you think employment is bad, you should try unemployment. In spite of all the stresses of work, whether on the factory floor or in the executive suites of big business, the blessing of being able to earn one’s living and livelihood in a decent and honest way is key to the human psyche.
David Blustein, in The Psychology Of Working, places work at the same level of attention for social and behavioural scientists and psychotherapists as other major life concerns, like intimate relationships, physical and mental health, and socio-economic inequities. It stands to reason, therefore, that people who lose their jobs, are fired or otherwise deprived of the right to work, exist at a lower level of human fulfilment.
Article 23 of the United Nations Charter underscores the importance of work. It states: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”
Those who have never worked have absolutely no sense of what it means to earn their own livelihood. Though they have an equal right to a job like those who are in fulfilling careers, there is no sense of loss for them in that you cannot lose what you never had.
It is of grave concern to me that across our social landscape, the number of able-bodied adults who have never earned their own livelihood is on the rise. Unfortunately, the lingering recession has done little to ease or help the situation. It is in this context, therefore, that the right to work as a human right must be underscored.
In recent years, the right to decent work and the right to a safe environment have taken centre stage and, of course, the right to job protection and general security of tenure have always been on the agenda of workers’ organizations.
Even before the United Nations existed or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was drafted, the International Labour Organization was developing and enforcing a broad range of labour related standards (www.umn.edu/humanrts).
The right to work is the first of the specific rights recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). After Part II of the covenant, on determining the nature of states’ obligations, Part III on specific rights immediately starts with the right to work (Article 6). The ILO Employment Policy Convention of 1964 (No. 122) is a document for reference in this regard.
Article 6 of the ICESCR states that the right to work includes “the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work”. This identifies for us the crucial element in this human rights standard which is the opportunity to earn one’s living.
In the final analysis, therefore, while the right to work is also about the unemployed, it is equally pertinent to those who work. The protection of that right must be of paramount importance to employers, workers’ representatives and labour organizations.
Every effort, therefore, must be made to ensure that the right to work is not violated either by management or by the rank and file. International and regional standards on the right to work (Article 23 of the UDHR) guarantees everyone “the right to work, to free employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment”.
No self-respecting labour organization would wish to be perceived as colluding to deprive any worker of their “right to work”.