With working time, wages are among conditions of work that have the most direct and tangible effect on the everyday life of workers. Although wages are necessary for the maintenance of workers and their families, in many parts of the world access to adequate and regular wages is not guaranteed.
Indeed, in certain countries, wage arrears continue to be a problem. In some cases, workers who have not received their wages are never paid due to the bankruptcy of the enterprise. Problems can also arise in cases where part of wages, and sometimes a large part, are paid in kind. Such situations push the workers concerned into poverty. In certain cases, these practices may even expose them to the risk of debt bondage or forced labour.
The principle of the provision of an adequate living wage was already set out in the Treaty of Versailles. Following the erosion of purchasing power as a result of the 2008 economic crisis, the ILO considered it important to emphasize the link between minimum wage-fixing and action to combat poverty. Accordingly, the Global Jobs Pact, adopted by the International Labour Conference in 2009, makes several references to minimum wages as one of the means of responding to the international economic crisis. The regular adjustment of wages, in consultation with the social partners, is identified in the Pact as one of means of reducing inequality, increasing demand and contributing to economic stability.
ILO standards on wages address all of these issues. They provide for the regular payment of wages, the protection of wages in the event of the insolvency of the employer and the fixing of minimum wage levels.
Selected relevant ILO instruments
- Protection of Wages Convention, 1949 (No. 95) - [ratifications]
Wages shall be paid in legal tender at regular intervals; in cases where partial payment of wages is in kind, the value of such allowances should be fair and reasonable. Workers shall be free to dispose of their wages as they choose. In cases of employer insolvency, wages shall enjoy a priority in the distribution of liquidated assets.
- Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 (No. 131) - [ratifications]
Requires ratifying states to establish a minimum wage fixing machinery capable of determining and periodically reviewing and adjusting minimum wage rates having the force of law.
- Protection of Workers' Claims (Employer's Insolvency) Convention, 1992 (No. 173) - [ratifications]
Provides for the protection of wage claims in insolvency and bankruptcy by means of a privilege or through a guarantee institution.
- Further relevant instruments
- Also relevant: Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) - [ratifications]
Lays down the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value.