Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

The fundamental principles and rights at work derive from ILO Conventions and Recommendations, which set international labour standards on a broad range of subjects related to the world of work, including human rights at work, employment policy and human resources development. Increasing concerns about the social impact of globalization led the members of the ILO - representatives of government, employers and workers at the international level - to recognize in 1995 that there were four categories of labour standards, expressed in eight conventions. In 2022, these four categories were amended to become five categories with the addition of the occupation of safety and health conventions.

These categories 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; and
  • The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
  • a safe and healthy working environment
The process culminated in 1998 and amended in 2022 with the adoption of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This Declaration affirms that all ILO Members States, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization to respect, to promote and to realize the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those Conventions.

Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (No. 87), 1948
Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98), 1949
The Elimination of all forms of Forced or Compulsory Labour

Forced Labour Convention (No. 29), 1930
Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105), 1957
The Effective Abolition of Child Labour

Minimum Age Convention (No. 138), 1973
Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182), 1999
Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation

Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100), 1951
Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111), 1958
A Safe and Healthy Working Environment

Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155)
Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187)

Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Freedom of Association: Freedom of association implies a profound respect for the inherent right of both employers and workers to autonomously establish and participate in groups aimed at advancing and safeguarding their occupational interests. It is the prerogative of workers and employers alike to form and manage their own organizations, free from external interference, be it from the government or any other entity.

Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining: Voluntary collective bargaining is a process through which employers and workers discuss and negotiate their relations, in particular terms and conditions of work. Participants include employers themselves or their organisations, and trade unions or, in their absence, representatives freely designated by the workers.

The Elimination of All forms of Forced or Compulsory Labour

Forced or compulsory labour is any work or service that is extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty, and for which that person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily. Providing wages or other compensation to a worker does not necessarily indicate that the labour is not forced or compulsory. By right, labour should be freely given, and employees should be free to leave, subject to previous notice of reasonable length.

The Effective Abolition of Child Labour

ILO conventions (Minimum Age Convention No. 138 and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention No. 182) provide the framework for national law to prescribe a minimum age for admission to employment or work that must not be less than the age for completing compulsory schooling, and in any case not less than 15 years.
Child labour is a form of exploitation that is a violation of human rights.

Whilst child labour takes many different forms, a priority is to eliminate without delay the worst forms of child labour as defined by Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182:
  • all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
  • the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
  • he use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
  • work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation

Discrimination: For the purpose of this Convention the term discrimination includes;
  • any distinction, exclusion or preference made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation;
  • such other distinction, exclusion or preference which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation as may be determined by the Member concerned after consultation with representative employers' and workers' organisations, where such exist, and with other appropriate bodies
Any distinction, exclusion or preference in respect of a particular job based on the inherent requirements thereof shall not be deemed to be discrimination.

Equal Renumeration: For the purpose of this Convention;
  • the term remuneration includes the ordinary, basic or minimum wage or salary and any additional emoluments whatsoever payable directly or indirectly, whether in cash or in kind, by the employer to the worker and arising out of the worker's employment;
  • the term equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value refers to rates of remuneration established without discrimination based on sex.

A Safe and Healthy Working Environment

The occupational safety and health fundamental conventions contain provisions of a general scope covering all branches of economic activity. No. 155 and No. 187 conventions are fully complementary and together they constitute a progressive and sustained improvements towards provision of safe and healthy working environments. Both No. 155 and 187 conventions serve as the basis of additional occupational safety and health measures.

Convention No.155 states that “the aim” of national policy shall be to prevent accidents and injury to health while No.187 requires member states to promote continuous improvement of occupational safety and health to prevent occupational injuries and diseases and death.

Facts and Figures

  • More than 40 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries that have ratified neither ILO Convention No. 87 on freedom of association nor Convention No. 98 on collective bargaining; and in many countries that have ratified them violations of these rights persist in law and practice.
  • On average, women are paid 23 per cent less than their male counterparts and in many countries are effectively excluded from certain occupations. Hundreds of millions of people suffer from discrimination in the world of work because of the colour of their skin, their ethnicity or social origin, their religion or political beliefs, their age, gender, sexual identity or orientation, disability or HIV status.
  • 152 million children aged 5-17 are in child labour: 72 million of them are in hazardous work and other worst forms of child labour, while 80 million more are below the minimum age for work and simply too young to be working. Millions of children, largely girls, have to carry out heavy household chores which prevent them from attending school.
  • 25 million people are victims of forced labour, 25 per cent of whom are children. In addition, at least 15 million people, mainly women and girls, live in forced marriage, which can amount to forced labour. Such a situation cannot and must not continue.
Fundamental principles and rights at work provide the foundation on which equitable and just societies are built. Without their realisation in law and practice, neither the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda nor the wider 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda can be achieved.

On-going Projects

Strengthening Social Partners and Civil Society Capacities on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work