23. Working Conditions

Sustainable Development

Decent work

Economy Social Environment Employment Protection Rights Dialogue
Relevant SDG Targets
5.4, 8.8, 10.4, 16.6
Relevant Policy Outcomes
2, 4, 6, 7, 10

On this page: DWA-SDG Relationship | Cross-cutting policy drivers | Partnerships | ILO Capacity | Resources

The ILO Constitution states: “And whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled.” This sentence underlines the critical importance of establishing humane conditions of work for sustainable and peaceful societies. People aspire to have not just a job but a good job. Wages, working time, work organization and conditions of work, arrangements to balance working life and the demands of family and life outside work, non-discrimination and protection from harassment and violence at work are core elements of the employment relationship and of workers’ protection, and also affect economic performance. Working conditions cover a broad range of topics and issues, from working time (hours of work, rest periods, and work schedules) to remuneration, as well as the physical conditions and mental demands that exist in the workplace.

The ILO monitors trends and developments regarding wages, collective bargaining, working time, work organisation, and work-life balance around the world and analyses key and emerging issues, in order to provide ILO constituents and policymakers with practical information and research-based policy advice grounded in state-of-the-art knowledge. In addition the ILO seeks to collaborate with national research institutes and academic institutions to obtain the state-of-the-art knowledge needed to support workers and employers in developing and implementing balanced working time arrangements that can protect workers’ health, benefit their well-being and work-life balance, and promote sustainable enterprises as well.

The ILO provides technical assistance to ILO constituents and expands the knowledge base on wages, working time, working conditions, collective bargaining and labour relations, and job and labour market security. To this effect, the ILO has also developed policy guides on minimum wages and collective bargaining. The Office promotes cooperation between the key labour market institutions and their combined effect on worker protection, labour market performance and equality. This includes the following areas (70):
  • Collective bargaining as a key means through which employers and their organizations and trade unions can establish fair wages and working conditions. It also provides the basis for sound labour relations. Typical issues on the bargaining agenda include wages, working time, training, occupational health and safety and equal treatment. ILO policy advice is based on the Collective Bargaining Convention, 1981 (C.154) and the Collective Bargaining Recommendation, 1981 (R.163).
  • Employment security protects workers against income fluctuations as a result of job loss due to dismissal caused by economic downturns, enterprise restructuring or other reasons. The growth of non-standard forms of work, such as temporary contracts, jobs through employment agencies, dependent self-employment, and marginal part-time work has increased workers’ concerns over employment security.
  • Wages are among the most important conditions of work and a central subject of collective bargaining. The ILO is committed to promoting policies on wages and incomes that ensure a just share of the fruits of progress to all and a minimum living wage for all employed in need of such protection. In order to do so it undertakes research and provides evidence-based policy advice on minimum wages, public sector pay, wage bargaining and gender pay gaps. Policy advice on minimum wages is based on a set of ILO Conventions, including the Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 (C.131).
  • Working time is an issue that has been central to the work of the ILO since its inception, when it adopted the first of many international labour standards, the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919 (No.1). Some of the major challenges include: excessive hours of work and the need to protect workers’ health and safety by limiting working hours and providing adequate periods for rest and recuperation, including weekly rest and paid annual leave - which are enshrined in international labour standards.
  • Work and Family measures are policy solutions intended to facilitate all workers' access to decent work by explicitly and systematically addressing and supporting their unpaid family responsibilities. The ILO Convention on Workers with Family Responsibilities, 1981 (No. 156) and its accompanying Recommendation No. 165 provide policy guidance to support the formulation of policies that enable men and women workers with family responsibilities to exercise their right to engage, participate and advance in employment without discrimination.
  • Domestic workers have become a priority target of ILO’s work since the adoption of Convention No. 189 (Decent Work for Domestic Workers) and the accompanying Recommendation 201 in 2011. Following the adoption of these instruments the Office has devised a strategy for action towards making decent work a reality for domestic workers worldwide; under this strategy the Office provides support to countries that are committed and ready to take measures aimed at improving the protection and working conditions of domestic workers. Decent Work for domestic workers is also a top priority for the International Trade Union Congress ITUC.
The issue of working conditions is of course also of great importance to informal economy workers, migrant workers and rural producers. Those are discussed under the respective section of this guide. The present section focuses on working conditions of salaried workers.

DWA-SDG Relationship

The term “working conditions” is not mentioned as such in 2030 Declaration and its SDGs but many related aspects are covered under various goals and targets: SDG target 5.4 specifically addresses the plight of domestic and care workers; SDG target 8.5 calls for equal pay for work of equal value and 8.8 calls for safe and secure working environments; SDG target 10.4 seeks to achieve greater equality through appropriate wage policies; and SDG target 16.6 is about the establishment of accountable institutions, which are indispensable for the improvement of working conditions. Many other SDG targets could be cited for having a potential link with working conditions. For example, adequate wages can contribute to reducing poverty.

The issue of working conditions is not subject to a dedicated ILO Policy Outcome, but ILO work in the pursuit of better working conditions is linked to, is dependent on, and contributes to the objective of more and better jobs, but also to other complementary outcomes, such as those focusing on labour standards, enterprises, labour inspection and social partners. Improved working conditions are also promoted by development cooperation projects, such as the project on “Labour standards in global supply chains: A programme of action for Asia and the garment sector”, as well as large-scale technical cooperation programmes, such as SCORE (Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises), Better Work (one of ILO’s five flagship programmes), the OSH-GAP (another flagship programme), and the projects supported by the Vision Zero Fund.

Cross-cutting policy drivers

The various aspects of working conditions summarized above are subject to numerous ILO Conventions and Recommendations which are compiled here. The sustainable improvement of working conditions is dependent on the ratification and effective application of these instruments.

Working conditions, and in particular wage setting, are a core element of social dialogue and collective bargaining. Hence the importance of promoting agreements in these areas between workers’ and employers’ organizations at the national, sectorial and firm levels. Social dialogue also plays a key role in fixing national or sectorial minimum wages.

The issues of domestic and care work and of the balance between work and family are of particular importance to female workers, and must be covered by specific, adequate national rules and regulations in line with ILO standards and guidance.

Certain aspects of working conditions, such as those addressed under SDG target 3.9 (deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination) are linked to environmental issues and must be addressed when promoting a greener economy.

Partnerships

ILO’s work on working conditions is supported by development partners such as the European Union, Germany, Sweden and the US, but also by multi—national companies such as H&M. Due to catastrophic factory disasters such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh attention has in recent years shifted towards working conditions in the global garment industry. The nature of the work on working conditions implies that the ILO maintains interacts closely with its constituents at the global and national levels, but also with research institutes and international NGOs (in particular those representing domestic workers). The aforementioned “Better Work” programme is a global, multi-stakeholder partnership in itself.

ILO Capacity

ILO’s work in the area of working conditions is led by the Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions Branch (INWORK) in the Conditions of Work Department. The INWORK team includes technical experts specialized in all the various work streams outlined above. In the field INWORK is represented by technical specialists in working conditions, wages, collective bargaining, labour relations and social dialogue, as well as be technical cooperation experts managing related projects. An up-to-date list of ILO’s working conditions specialists can be found here. Because of the cross-cutting nature of working conditions many other ILO experts and specialists from various units and offices can contribute to this endeavour. The work on equal pay is also supported by the Fundamentals Branch, the Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch, and the International Labour Standards Department.

Resources

The INWORK “area of work” web page provides links to the unit’s various work streams. Each of those includes further links to relevant tools, reports and publications, including the unit’s flagship “Global Wage Report” which is recognized as an authoritative source of information on wage trends and policy responses at national and global levels. Additional resources can be accessed on ILO topical pages on

70. ILO. Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions Branch (INWORK). ILO Departments. [Online] 11 November 2016. /travail/lang--en/index.htm.