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Decent work is the availability of employment in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.
According to the International Labour Organization ILO, Decent Work 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.
United Nations Economic and Social Council has also given a General Comment that defines "decent work" and requires satisfaction of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The ILO is developing an agenda for the community of work, represented by its tripartite constituents, to mobilize their considerable resources to create those opportunities and to help reduce and eradicate poverty .
The ILO Decent Work Agenda  is the balanced and integrated programmatic approach to pursue the objectives of full and productive employment and decent work for all at global, regional, national, sectoral and local levels. It has four pillars: standards and rights at work , employment creation and enterprise development , social protection  and social dialogue .
Although few disagree with the Decent Work Agenda in principle, actually achieving Decent Work poses challenges and controversies. The Decent Work Agenda requires national and international actors to commit to the objective of creating quality jobs globally and to pursue cooperative solutions to this challenge. However, governments struggle to convince their publics that development and job creation abroad is imperative to prosperity and employment at home. Some governments also face the temptation to close markets and lower labor standards to remain competitive in a world economy that is blamed for depressing wages and working conditions.
Various actors can have an impact on the provision of Decent Work, although existing conditions and incentives do not always lend themselves to advancing the Decent Work Agenda. To illustrate:
- National governments create Decent Work through economic and industrial policies. However, the forces of globalization – such as downward pressures on wages and reduced macroeconomic policy flexibility – have diminished the ability of national governments to achieve this goal on their own.
- Businesses create jobs from the local to international levels, and those operating across borders can affect international wages and working conditions. Multinational enterprises typically locate operations in countries where wages are at their lowest and so called "worker's rights" are less prominent. This is antithetical to the Decent Work Agenda, although it does contribute to economic development.
- Trade unions assist employees in advocating for elements of Decent Work, from a so-called "living wage" to health insurance to workplace safety standards. Trade unions face the challenge of meeting their members’ immediate needs at home while supporting job creation and "workers’ rights" around the globe.
- International financial institutions provide loans or other assistance to national governments, and require loan recipients to implement certain policy measures. Existing programs generally exclude employment targets and have even been known to have a negative impact on job creation in the short term, as jobs which exist only through government market distortions are replaced with economically viable employment.
- Trade negotiators can forward the Decent Work Agenda globally by including labor standards in trade agreements, while legislators (among others) can support their implementation. However, many countries view the campaign for labor standards as an effort by other countries to make their own industries more competitive.
World Day for Decent Work
October 7 is the World Day for Decent Work. During that day trade unions, union federations and other workers associations develop their actions to promote the idea of Decent Work. Actions vary from street demonstrations to music events or conferences held in many countries.
Decent Work, Decent Life Campaign
Five organizations, Solidar, ITUC, ETUC, Social Alert International and the Global Progressive Forum, launched the Decent Work, Decent Life campaign at the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January 2007 and has since then worked in an alliance to promote decent work for decent life as solution to poverty. The idea to run a Campaign on Decent Work was conceived at the World Social Forum, 2005 in Porto Alegre. The Campaign targets young people, trade union activists, NGOs and decision makers in developed and developing countries.
In November 2007 decision makers from European governments and institutions signed the Call to Action of the Decent Work, Decent Life Campaign adding up to the recognition of the Decent Work Agenda. “There is also a growing interest on the part of the EU and international civil society in decent work, as illustrated for instance by: the launch of the Decent Work/Decent Life [Campaign]…”.
Decent Work, Decent Life for Women Campaign
The Decent Work, Decent Life for Women Campaign is a two years campaign launched on International Women’s Day 2008 (March 8) by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Global union federations (GUF). The campaign aims to advocate decent work for women and gender equality in labour policies and agreements and to seek gender equality in trade union structures, policies and activities. The second objective aims at increasing number of women members in trade unions and women in elected positions.
The Campaign’s necessity stems from multiple forms of discrimination in both policy and practice on a daily basis women are facing such as the gender pay gap, the lack of maternity protection and the higher unemployment rates among women.
At the moment 81 national centers in 56 countries participate with various events in this Campaign.
- International Labour Organization
- International Trade Union Confederation
- World Trade Organization
- World Bank Group
- International Monetary Fund
- Washington Consensus
- Forced labour
- Social clause
- Convention on domestic workers
- General Comment 18, 2006
- Key decision-makers commit to Call to Action for Decent Work, Decent Life - Australian Council of Trade Unions
- Report on the EU contribution to the promotion of decent work in the world, SEC 2184, Brussels, 2008
- WageIndicator.org - News flash 2008