International Labour Standards on Equality of opportunity and treatment


No society is free from discrimination. Indeed, discrimination in employment and occupation is a universal and permanently evolving phenomenon. 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 still earn between 20 and 25 per cent less than male colleagues performing equal work or work of equal value, which shows how slow progress has been over recent years in this regard. Freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right and is essential for workers to be able to choose their employment freely, develop their potential to the full and reap economic rewards on the basis of merit. Bringing equality to the workplace also has significant economic benefits. Employers who practice equality have access to a larger, more diverse and higher quality workforce. Workers who enjoy equality have greater access to training and often receive higher wages. 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 1) ILO standards on equality provide tools to eliminate discrimination in all aspects of work and in society as a whole. They also provide the basis upon which gender mainstreaming strategies can be applied in the field of labour.

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”. The Convention also provides for the possibility of extending the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination after consultation with representative employers’ and workers’ organizations, and relevant bodies. National legislation has included, in recent years, a broad range of additional prohibited grounds of discrimination, including real or perceived HIV status, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. The Convention covers discrimination in relation to access to education and vocational training, access to employment and to particular occupations, as well as terms and conditions of employment. 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 policy and the measures adopted should be continually assessed and reviewed in order to ensure that they remain appropriate and effective in a regularly changing context
  • Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981 (No. 156) - [ratifications]
    With a view to creating effective equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women workers, the Convention requires ratifying States to make it an aim 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 into account the needs of workers with family responsibilities in community planning and to develop or promote community services, public or private, such as child-care 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

  • Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) – General Observation (2019)
  • Information paper on protection against sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sexual characteristics (SOGIESC) discrimination (2019) - [PDF]
  • 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 - M. Oelz, S. Olney, M. Tomei, Equal Pay – An introductory guide, ILO, Geneva, 2013.