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The SDG Temple of Justice 

The Fifth Pillar: Labour Rights

The eight pillars of legal empowerment

of the SDG Temple of Justice

The blueprint presented here seeks to help realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by leveraging the human rights foundation of the SDGs through the eight pillars of rights relating to legal empowerment of the people including the poor and marginalized groups.

Why labour rights matter for the SDGs?

Labor rights or workers' rights are a group of legal rights and claimed human rights having to do with labor relations between workers and their employers, usually obtained under labor and employment law.

A well-functioning system of labor and employment law at national level contributes to achieving SDG 8, i.e. the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Likewise, SDG 8 seeks to promote labor rights including those that are enshrined in International Labor Organization Conventions, such as:

ILO 102 - Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102)

ILO 118 - Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention, 1962 (No. 118)

ILO 157 - Maintenance of Social Security Rights Convention, 1982 (No. 157)

ILO Rec 202 - Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

The UN has backed workers rights by incorporating several into two articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 23 - 24), which is the basis of the provisions on labour rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Articles 6 - 8) and  the ILO Conventions.


UDHR Article 23:

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.[1]


Article 24:

  1. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.


The Agenda for Labor Rights proposed by the UN HLCLEP*

Strengthen identity, voice, representation, and dialogue

The process of legal empowerment starts with identity. Just as property and physical assets of the poor are recognized so too must the greatest asset of the poor, namely their labor and human capital, be effectively recognized. There is a particular need to ensure that workers and entrepreneurs in the informal economy have

the right to freedom of association through organisations of their own choosing and to collective bargaining, particularly women and youth who are over-represented in the informal economy. Emphasis should be placed on building up representative organisations of the working poor, particularly of wage and self-employed workers operating in the informal economy, to have voice, representation, and dialogue with formal economy operators and with public authorities in order to defend their rights.


Strengthen the quality of labor regulation and the effective enforcement of fundamental principles and rights at work

The purpose is to create synergy between protection and productivity of the working poor and of their assets. Reviewing the quality of institutions and regulation should involve a critical and self-critical review of legal instruments

from the point of view of their impacts on productivity and on the protection of labor.


Support minimum package of labor rights for workers in the informal economy

A minimum package of labor rights should be established and enforced for the working poor in the informal economy with gradual and progressive convergence of labor rights applying to all workers. This should uphold and go beyond the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work with three crucial additional aspects relating to working conditions: health and safety at work, hours of work, and minimum income.


Strengthen access to opportunities

Policies to create and provide improved access of the poor to new opportunities for full, productive and freely chosen employment, as promoted in ILO Convention 122, can provide a key mechanism for empowering the poor in the

informal economy, and facilitating their transition to formality. Opportunities for education and capacity building, as well as measures for combating discrimination, help increase legal recognition of the poor and also bring them

closer to new economic opportunities.

Support inclusive social protection

The recognition of the right to social security has been developed through universally accepted instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, which proclaim that social security is a fundamental societal right to which every human is entitled. This must be upheld by all countries through laws, institutions, and responsive mechanisms that can protect the poor from shocks and contingencies that can impoverish, and measures that guarantee access to medical care, health insurance,

old age pensions, and social services. These mechanisms must not be solely dependent on the evidence of employment status but must be open to all types of workers. From a systemic perspective rights to pensions and health protection should be granted to the people as citizens rather than as workers and awarded on universal principles.


Promote gender equality

Poverty has a gender dimension, and legal empowerment can help drive gender equality. A key challenge is to ensure that ILO labor standards, which promote equality of opportunity and treatment, are effectively extended to informal sector workers. The starting point for this process lies in the core labor standards on gender equality. Useful guidance can be found in the 1996 ILO Home Work Convention, which mandates the extension of legal protection and legal empowerment to home workers (industrial outworkers who work from their homes), who are predominantly women.

* UN HLCLEP - UN High Level Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor

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