Decent work

The International Labour Organisation defines the concept of decent work in the following way:

Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.–en/index.htm

This is a loose definition but at the core of it is an ideal of a standard of working life which encompasses adequate wages, protections from dismissal, good levels of on-the-job health and safety, stability and predictability in the employment relationship, and a level of flexibility to accommodate caring, disability or other factors in a worker’s life.

These are the criteria for international labour standards and are the foundations for labour law. In Australia, the oversight for labour law is the remit of the   Fair Work Commission. 

My own research – in accordance with many others over recent years, suggests that the ideal of decent work is strained by the continuing precarisation of employment.

I have covered the effect of this in a number of articles as follows.  The articles document the problems many people encounter in the contemporary workforce as a result of the growth of precarious employment – the lack of security in income, not knowing from day to day or week to week how much work if any you will have, your treatment as an expendable  ‘commodity’ rather than a human being.  This means you are more likely to be under constant surveillance and be subject to harsh performance requirements often demanded in hourly time slots. You can also lose your job at any time as you have no protection from dismissal.

Social policy can secure a better future for working women

Labour in vain: casualisation presents a precarious future for workers

The precariat is recruiting: youth, please apply

Eviction from the middle class: how tenuous jobs penalise women



In 2013, I presented a paper at the International Labour Office in Geneva at a conference  Regulating for Decent Work: Regulating for Equitable and Job‐Rich Growth

My paper interrogates the way that labour law interacts with social policy in Australia to foster low paid and precarious employment arrangements.

Australia has achieved exceptional results in recent years in sustaining employment levels and reducing welfare dependency.

But these results are achieved in part through a growing pool of poorly regulated casual and other insecure jobs. Social policies encompassing low unemployment benefits and vigorous welfare-to-work approaches delivered through a ‘marketised’ employment services system serve to channel unemployed and disadvantaged workers into these jobs.

While Australia may be weathering the present tide of subdued economic prospects across the globe comparatively well, its model may be setting the scene for longer term structural weaknesses and subverting an inclusive labour markets, inclusive growth agenda. Stronger labour regulation especially in relation to casual employment, better investments in human capital across the life course, and adoption of employment retention and advancement social policies will be needed for long term sustainable and inclusive social, economic and labour market outcomes.

The paper is available here:




Please find articles on the importance of decent jobs – middle class jobs to society and the economy:

Why Abbott can’t delete ‘society’ from his economic growth script

Rudd, Abbott, bring on the plan for more ‘middle class’ jobs



And a decent minimum wage is an important part of the equation for decent jobs growth – here’s why:

Why the ACTU needs to hold the line on the minimum wage


Website content copyright © 2013-2018 Veronica Sheen





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