Responding to globalization: The Decent Work Agenda

As the ILO turns 100, we look at some of the key events that shaped the organization’s story. The introduction of the Decent Work Agenda at the turn of the century was one such milestone.

GENEVA (ILO News) – The promotion of ‘Decent Work’ has been at the core or the ILO’s agenda throughout the agency’s 100-year-old mandate. But it wasn’t until the turn of the century that the now widely-used term was first coined as part of an ambitious agenda.

“Decent Work is a global demand today, confronting political and business leadership worldwide. Much of our common future depends on how we meet this challenge,” the then ILO Director-General Juan Somavia  wrote in his report  to the 1999 International Labour Conference .

Decent Work is not just about getting a job. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families. It is at the root of social cohesion – where there is a lack of Decent Work, there is also poverty, inequality, social tension or outright social conflict. Work that traps people in bondage or poverty or exposes them to hazards, discrimination or insecurity, does not allow individuals – or the economies they are part of – to advance and fulfil their potential.

The concept has gained widespread international acceptance and has been incorporated into the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda , with Goal 8  calling for the promotion of “inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.”

The Decent Work Agenda  was first spelt out in the 1999 ILO report and was formally adopted in 2008, as part of the ILO’s Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization . The Agenda makes it clear that Decent Work is the foundation of productive, fair and inclusive societies. It focusses on four strategic objectives; employment, social protection, social dialogue, and rights at work – which have proved time and again indispensable to achieving inclusive growth and social peace.

The ILO – with its tripartite structure that brings together government, worker and employer representatives – is ideally positioned to champion the Agenda and is actively helping member States – through their Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCPs)  – to incorporate Decent Work as a key component of their national development strategies.

In 2016-2017, ILO action contributed to significant achievements in 131 countries, where governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations developed decent work-related strategies and increased their institutional capacity and knowledge to promote employment, social protection, social dialogue and fundamental principles and rights at work.

Even as we try to understand and respond effectively to a rapidly changing world of work, the principle of Decent Work for All remains at the forefront of the ILO’s efforts, as the organization heads towards its second century of fighting for social justice.