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UNESCO-UNEVOC has compiled a short selection of acdemic or professional articles that might help to clarify the signification and the use of the term "Decent work". It goes thus beyond the definitions stored in TVETipedia while not pretending to offer an exhaustive bibliography on the topic.
Report of the director general: Decent Work (1999) and Report of the Director-General: Reducing the decent work deficit - a global challenge (2001) By Juan Somavia, ILO
Those two “reports of the director-general” coined –probably for the first time- the term “decent work”. It is worth noting that both reports were keystones of ILO's modernisation and reform programs for the 21th century, and set the tone of M. Juan Somavia's mandates as director-general (1999-2012).
The selected quotes aim to highlight both the philosophy of the 'decent work' concept and its strategic importance for ILO.
Decent work means productive work in which rights are protected, which generates an adequate income, with adequate social protection. It also means sufficient work, in the sense that all should have full access to income-earning opportunities. It marks the high road to economic and social development, a road in which employment, income and social protection can be achieved without compromising workers' rights and social standards. … ILO, sections 1.10 and 2.2(1999)
“As the Declaration of Philadelphia puts it, ILO obligations include the obligation to further programmes aimed at achieving “employment of workers in the occupations in which they can have the satisfaction of giving the fullest measure of their skill and attainments and make their greatest contribution to the common well-being”. That Declaration also affirms the right of everyone to “conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity”. It underlines the importance of ensuring “a just share of the fruits of progress to all”. That is the foundation of decent work. …
The goal of decent work is best expressed through the eyes of people. It is about your job and future prospects; about your working conditions; about balancing work and family life, putting your kids through school or getting them out of child labour. It is about gender equality, equal recognition, and enabling women to make choices and take control of their lives. It is about your personal abilities to compete in the market place, keep up with new technological skills and remain healthy. It is about developing your entrepreneurial skills, about receiving a fair share of the wealth that you have helped to create and not being discriminated against; it is about having a voice in your workplace and your community. In the most extreme situations it is about moving from subsistence to existence. For many, it is the primary route out of poverty. For many more, it is about realizing personal aspirations in their daily existence and about solidarity with others. And everywhere, and for everybody, decent work is about securing human dignity.” ILO, pp.7-8(2001)
"Report of the Director-General: Reducing the decent work deficit - a global challenge", Geneva, June 2001, ISBN 92-2-111949-1
Published 10 years after the previous reference, this academic article shows how much the ILO (and 'decent work') evolved during this time-span. It does so by analyzing ILO’s 2008 “declaration on social justice for a fair globalisation”, which the author - employed by ILO at the time of publication - describes as "the first attempt since the end of world war II to reformulate the ILO's message".
In the selected quote, the author develops the case of ‘decent work’ and highlights how the term changed since 1999: he explains the vagueness of the concept, the strengths and weaknesses that came out of it, and how ILO tried to “clear its legal standing and meaning” while not losing its initial malleability.
As a result, the idea of elaborating its content or meaning in one way or another met with staunch resistance. Thus, employers promptly drew a ‘ red line ’ that should not be crossed with respect to the issue of a possible ‘ authoritative text ’ , on the ground that its content must be left to each country to determine with reference to its own specificities and preferences. Three main steps, developed in successive documents, helped overcome these objections while consolidating the added value of the concept. The first step was to take the heat out of the definition issue by underlining that axiomatically the concept of decent work could neither modify nor increase the scope of the constitutional obligations binding the ILO or its members. The second step was to specify that decent work is not about new content but rather a new approach to existing objectives. Its ‘ added value ’ is thus: (i) to give synthesized expression to these objectives so that they could intuitively appeal to constituents and the public at large without modifying their nature or scope; (ii) formally to recognize, for the first time, an essential common feature of these objectives – that of being inseparable parts of a coherent whole. …
The third step was to introduce appropriate guarantees that this recognition, while entailing some quite concrete consequences, would not encroach on each member’s legitimate responsibility to make a final adjudication as regards the relative weight to be given to each of these objectives. The text makes it clear that there is no question of imposing a uniform formula as regards the manner of combining these objectives in practice. Thus, the affirmation of the inseparable nature of the objectives is in itself inseparable from the recognition that each state has discretion to compose a ‘ cocktail ’ that is best suited to national circumstances and the social partners ’ collective preferences.” Francis Maupain, pp.838-839
Those two online services highlight the efforts from ILO to find the right balance for 'decent work': Keeping the concept 'malleable'(like the previous reference coined it) while still leading to measurable results and concrete actions.
On the side of "concrete actions", ILO built an Agenda for Decent Work as well as a activities on the theme "Measuring of Decent Work". However, the description of both projects shows vigilance regarding their range.
The Agenda for Decent Work reminds that “the balance within the programmes differs from country to country, reflecting their needs, resources and priorities”. As explained in the introduction of “Measuring of Decent work”, “detailed indicator definitions” will depend of the balance of each country.
Note that concrete results of this balanced approach can be downloaded at the bottom of the “measuring decent work” page, through the “decent work country profiles” of some pilot-countries. ILO also published a manual on Decent work indicator in 2012.
"Decent work indicators: concepts and definitions", ILO 2012, ISBN 978-92-2-126426-2
"Decent work" is not the only term for defining employment quality, and ILO is not the only organisation concerned by this matter. Those two manuals reflect the work operated -still recently- by two global organisations (OECD and UNECE) on building a framework for measuring decent work. While facing similar issues (flexibility VS comparability), they came up with fairly different results.
The selected quotes include a table from the OECD manual that sums up the scales, criterias and methodologies followed by 7 international frameworks for job quality.
"Handbook on measuring quality of employment: A statistical Framework", United nations economic commission for Europe, 2015
This article is an element of the TVETipedia Glossary.