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The International Labour Organization (ILO) has drawn up a new concept: decent work for all. Decent work has four dimensions: the nature of the work and employment in question; the ability to exercise employment rights; safety; and the capacity for employer representation and dialogue.
The concept of “work” aims to reach beyond that of a mere paid job position, to cover all occupational diversity from freelance work to the domestic work carried out by a housewife without receiving payment for her services to the family. The ambiguous definition “decent” is, in English, related to the concept of “reasonable” or “sufficient”. In this sense, decent work means work carried out in reasonable conditions and for which a sufficient benefit or advantage is received.
The ILO conceptual effort is linked to the worldwide movement in favour of the standardisation of human rights which came after World War II and which has progressed in the definition of new categories of individual and collective rights. The areas of economics and employment have no exception to this increasing standardisation which is still a long way off from being backed up by national processes for legal classification and actual implementation. However, conceptual clarity and international standards help to distinguish what is acceptable from what is not.
The main issue is if concepts such as decent work can become operative legal elements which force employers in all countries to provide certain minimum work condition, if governments are determined to create public policies for social development and if the international community can finally understand that cooperation in development is cheaper than chasing mafia members who traffic people, capturing immigrants on the streets and at borders, or intervening in the armed conflicts which break out in different places.