Rights at work

Fundamental principles and rights at work and other international labour standards provide the foundation on which equitable and just societies are built. They are the starting point for a virtuous circle of effective social dialogue, better conditions for workers, rising enterprise productivity, increased consumer demand, more and better jobs and social protection, and for formalizing the informal economy.

Eradicating child labour and ensuring that all children are in quality education, and that young people receive the training they need to fulfil their productive and creative potential, will contribute to ending poverty, to stronger economies and to a better future for all. Ending forced labour, in all its forms, means that workers will neither be robbed of their dignity nor their right to freely-chosen employment.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining represent the primary vehicle by which this can be achieved, enabling employers and workers to negotiate key aspects of their relationship. Ending discrimination will unlock the potential of the millions of women, men and youth currently excluded or undervalued.

Child labour

Widespread child labour continues to be one of the most prevalent and persistent forms of violence and exploitation facing refugee children. Society’s most vulnerable members are particularly affected by forced displacement and resulting socioeconomic vulnerability. Poverty is forcing many families to rely on their children to contribute to their livelihood. They are drawn into the worst forms of child labour and face serious and worrying exploitation, abuse and violation of their rights. These forms include the kinds of hazardous work found in agriculture, services, and industry, as well as the multiple dangers associated with working on the streets. Therefore, decent work and skills trainings for parents and adolescents help counteract child labour. Policies facilitating access to work will help families meet basic needs and decrease their dependence on child labour as a coping strategy.

The elimination of the endemic use of child labour requires both economic and social reform as well as the active cooperation of all development actors, of governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations, enterprises, international organizations, and civil society at large. PROSPECTS aims to provide access to formal jobs for parents and vocational opportunities for adolescents to help counteract child labour. No generation should be called a 'lost generation' in terms of education and human development.

Forced labour

Addressing the legal and regulatory impediments facing refugees in accessing the labour market and gaining decent work in host communities is of particular importance. When opportunities are either not available or limited in the formal labour market, the vulnerability of refugees to destitution, exploitation in the informal economy and serious human rights violations from abusive recruitment practices and exploitation to debt bondage, trafficking and forced labour, is significantly increased.

Some of the most egregious violations of fundamental rights occur in contexts of armed conflict and forced displacement, therefore adequate protection measures in these contexts are extremely important.

Recommendation 205 calls for measures to “promote the access of refugees to formal job opportunities, income-generation schemes and entrepreneurship, by providing vocational training and guidance, job placement assistance, and access to work permits, as appropriate, thereby preventing informalization of labour markets in host communities”.

These measures should take place as a part of broader efforts to build the resilience and strengthen the capacity of host communities by investing in local economies and promoting full, productive, freely chosen employment and decent work, and skills development of the local population.

Non discrimination

Thousands of foreign workers suffer from discrimination in the world of work. This not only violates a most basic human right, but has wider social and economic consequences. Discrimination stifles opportunities, wasting the human talent needed for economic progress, and accentuates social tensions and inequalities. Combating discrimination is an essential part of promoting decent work within the PROSPECTS partnership, and success on this front is felt well beyond the workplace. It will strive for the elimination of discrimination, including based on gender, race, ethnicity, indigenous status, disability and HIV status.

Gender mainstreaming
All PROSPECTS' interventions will be guided by considerations for the principle of equity and gender equality. Attention will be paid to the gender dimension of forced displacement – especially to the specific needs and opportunities of women and girls who account for a relatively large share of refugees. For vocational trainings for instance, efforts will be made to support the provision of child care, suitable transportation and gender sensitive work spaces as local context may require to support female participation in education and the labour force. The programme shall address caregiving obligations and overcome traditionally-held, deep-seated unconscious, gender biases on the part of both men and women in order to ensure a gender balance in all activities.

Persons with disabilities
The World Health Organization estimates that around 15 per cent of the world’s population has a disability. Recent researches conducted in Jordan and Lebanon suggested that as many as 22% of refugees had a disability.

Persons with disabilities remain one of the most vulnerable and socially excluded groups in any displaced community, and they may have difficulty accessing educational programme and work opportunities, due to a variety of societal, environmental and communication barriers. They also face particular protection risks such as heightened risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, as well as high levels of stigma.

The ILO has a longstanding commitment to promoting social justice and achieving decent work for people with disabilities. PROSPECTS seeks to ensure the inclusion of disabled persons in mainstream services and activities, such as skills training, employment promotion, social protection schemes and poverty reduction strategies.

Refugees have the right and the ability to work, work environments can be adapted, often with minor adjustments at a very low cost. Providing reasonable accommodation for access to, and retention at work supports the ultimate goal of normalizing disability along the continuum of diversity.

Social dialogue, Freedom of association and engagement with social partners

The successful labour market integration of forcibly displaced persons can only be achieved through joint efforts of all relevant actors, i.e. employers and their associations, as well as trade unions, relevant civil society organizations of the host community, and refugees themselves.

As the ILO, when setting standards and policies, employers’ and workers’ representatives have an equal voice with governments in its decision-making processes. This unique arrangement gives PROSPECTS the advantage of incorporating “real world” knowledge about employment and labour issues into its work around forced displacement. The objective is to foster a concrete collaboration between employers and workers’ organizations. Where possible, commitment and cooperation of social partners have been secured from the onset of the programme and they have been consulted in the preliminary missions and involved in joint visits to camps, for example.

EBMOs and workers’ organizations have a tremendous mobilization potential through their members: either to lobby for legislative and constitutional changes in favour of business continuity and the workforce, or to act swiftly and effectively when assistance, protection and the safeguarding of worker's rights are required. This effective bipartite action can be a driving force to advancing the decent work agenda in forced displacement.

Employer and Business Membership Organizations (EBMOs)

Employer and Business Membership Organizations (EBMOs) can play a crucial role in preparing for and delivering assistance in forced displacement. The private sector is widely referenced as a critical actor in conflict-affected zones particularly in providing vital goods and services during conflict and as a key contributor to rebuilding economies and communities post-conflict. EBMOs are uniquely positioned to positively contribute to the challenges posed by conflict because of their inclusivity, power, size, partnerships and provision of key skills. The Bureau for Employers’ Activities of the ILO (ACT/EMP) has conducted extensive research (mostly across Asia and the Pacific region for the moment) on the role of EBMOs in conflict situations to inform technical programmes like PROSPECTS. Key findings from these research efforts are listed below:

  • EBMOs are embedded in their communities through business ties and through other links, such as political, cultural, ethnic or religious activities. Consequently, EBMOs can play a critical role in ensuring that workplaces remain independent of latent conflict and its causes and spaces of neutrality and inclusivity.
  • The business community has an inherent interest in stability. Stability is required for the conduct of business; a factor that can influence government officials to adopt constructive policies. The ability to put pressure on governments – to use a collective pressure point – is an invaluable asset.
  • The strength of EBMOs lies in their representative nature and their functioning as networks. Their wide representative footprint provides enormous potential for greater impacts.
  • Long-running and close partnerships between EBMOs and other stakeholders, particularly workers’ organizations, can add weight to influencing a particular course of action or political direction.
  • EBMOs can play a direct and positive role in encouraging investment in and the swift recovery of the market disruptions in hosting areas and promoting peace-building and economic reconciliation.
Business leaders commonly have different skills from policy-makers or development practitioners. They are often engaged in difficult negotiations with buyers and suppliers, requiring key skills in deal-making, which are acutely needed in the consolidation of local markets while ensuring inclusion and social cohesion.


Workers' organizations

As democratic institutions that stabilize societies, workers’ organizations have a particular role to play in the context of forced displacement. Trade unions play an important role in promoting and protecting the rights of forcibly displaced persons in the workplace, despite their great prevalence in the informal economy. They can facilitate and support their inclusion in labour markets, show their solidarity with their new co-workers, ensure that collective bargaining includes refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, guarantee freedom of association, and promote social dialogue.
While challenges are clearly numerous (e.g. trade unions might simply be unable to organise or their activities might be reduced or outlawed during/after conflicts), there are many opportunities for action:

  • Trade unions may have a good understanding of the local context;
  • Trade unions may have access to parties involved in a dispute or a conflict;
  • Trade unions may monitor the implementation of policies and evaluate their success;
  • Trade unions may be aware of social issues;
  • Trade unions are in a key position to advocate for stronger social dialogue, efficient public service, full realization of ILS, just transitions, business due diligence, employment-intensive investment;
  • Trade unions are in a key position to promote issues and values (e.g. transformative gender agenda; inclusion of persons with disabilities; expanding the traditional notion of work) which may have spillover effects;
  • Trade unions may help tackle the root causes of inequality;
  • Trade unions may inspire confidence and trust;
  • Trade unions may act as agents of change and a source of solidarity and peace;
  • Trade unions may use a conflict or a disaster to strengthen and reposition themselves, to increase their reach and coverage to all people who work.

  • In the context of forced displacement, trade unions can work towards creating a welcoming environment for refugees and other forcibly displaced persons in the workplace and ensuring that their rights and obligations as workers, as well as those of members of host communities, are clearly articulated and respected.
Social Dialogue in the context of PROSPECTS

Freedom of association
and the right to collective bargaining are fundamental rights and are an integral part of democracy. Strong freedom of association and sound collective bargaining practices ensure that employers and workers have an equal voice in negotiations and that the outcome is fair and equitable. Their implementation allows forcibly displaced and host communities to better demand the rights they are entitled to and improve working conditions. They enable workers and employers to join together to protect better not only their own economic interests but also their civil freedoms such as the right to life, to security, to integrity, and to personal and collective freedom.

The role of social dialogue in the generation of employment and decent work for the purpose of prevention, recovery, peace, and resilience with respect to fragile environments gained renewed impetus following the adoption of the Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation (No. 205) in 2017. It gives a clear role to the ILO in matters of employment and decent work in conflicts and disasters, and ILO social partners need to be at the centre of the ILO’s endeavours in this regard. Recommendation No. 205 does not provide ready-made answers; it provides tools and windows of opportunity for EBMOs and workers’ organizations to intervene in the context of conflicts and disasters. It gives them a voice and tools to have an impact in this context. Recommendation No. 205 also states that governments have a responsibility to consult with employers’ and workers’ organizations to provide refugees with access to the local labour market (Paragraph 35).

For all these reasons, PROSPECTS aims to develop and support the capacity of employers’ and workers’ organisations to address refugee and forcibly displaced persons’ issues from a rights-based perspective. Capacity-building of social partners is key to ensure their participation in the labour law reforms, in the establishment of dispute mechanisms, in the development of a hazardous sector list, and in the identification of child labour and in many other cases.