International Labour Standards on Equality of opportunity and treatment


Millions of women and men around the world are denied access to jobs and training, receive low wages, or are restricted to certain occupations simply on the basis of their sex, skin colour, ethnicity or beliefs, without regard to their capabilities and skills. In a number of developed countries, for example, women workers earn up to 25% less than male colleagues performing equal work. (Note 1) Freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right and is essential for both workers to choose their employment freely, to develop their potential to the full and to reap economic rewards on the basis of merit. Bringing equality to the workplace has significant economic benefits, too. Employers who practise equality have access to a larger and more diverse workforce. Workers who enjoy equality have greater access to training, often receive higher wages, and improve the overall quality of the workforce. The profits of a globalized economy are more fairly distributed in a society with equality, leading to greater social stability and broader public support for further economic development. (Note 2) ILO standards on equality provide tools to eliminate discrimination in all aspects of the workplace and in society as a whole. They also provide the basis upon which gender mainstreaming strategies can be applied in the field of labour.

Selected relevant ILO instruments

  • Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) - [ratifications]
    This fundamental convention requires ratifying countries to ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value. The term "remuneration" is broadly defined to include the ordinary, basic or minimum wage or salary and any additional emoluments payable directly or indirectly, whether in cash or in kind, by the employer to the worker and arising out of the worker's employment.
  • Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) - [ratifications]
    This fundamental convention defines discrimination as 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. It requires ratifying states to declare and pursue a national policy designed to promote, by methods appropriate to national conditions and practice, equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating any discrimination in these fields. This includes discrimination in relation to access to vocational training, access to employment and to particular occupations, and terms and conditions of employment.
  • Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981 (No. 156) - [ratifications]
    With the aim of creating effective equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women workers, the convention requires ratifying states to make it a goal of national policy to enable persons with family responsibilities who are engaged or wish to engage in employment to exercise their right to do so without being subject to discrimination and, to the extent possible, without conflict between their employment and family responsibilities. The convention also requires governments to take account of the needs of workers with family responsibilities in community planning and to develop or promote community services, public or private, such as childcare and family services and facilities.
  • In addition to these standards, numerous other ILO standards include provisions on equality in relation to the specific topic they cover.
  • Further relevant instruments

Further information

  • Equal Pay – An introductory guide (2013) - [pdf]
  • General Survey on the Fundamental Conventions (2012) - [pdf]
  • Equality at work: The continuing challenge - Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and rights at Work (2011)
  • Gender Equality and Decent Work - Selected ILO Conventions and Recommendations Promoting Gender Equality - Bureau for Gender Equality & International Labour Standards Department, ILO, second (revised) edition 2006 – [pdf]
  • An international perspective on planned and systematic approaches to workplace equality: Presentation by Ms Doumbia-Henry (Director of ILS Department) (Dublin, 30 June 2005) – [pdf]
  • Time for Equality at Work: Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and rights at Work (2003)
  • General Survey on Equality in Employment and Occupation (1996) - [pdf]
  • General Survey on Workers with Family Responsibilities (1993) - [pdf]
  • General Survey on Equality in Employment and Occupation (1988) - [pdf]
  • General Survey on Equal Remuneration (1986) - [pdf]
  • ILO Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work

Note 1 - ILO: Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling: women in management. Update 2004 (Geneva, 2004), p. 30.
Note 2
- ILO, Time for Equality at Work: Global Report under the Follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, Report of the Director-General, International Labour Conference, 91st Session, Geneva, 2003.