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News - Decent Work: Its Relevance to the Barbados Workforce
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Labour News.

Decent Work: Its Relevance to the Barbados Workforce

Written by Mark Franklin

In 1999, the newly appointed Director General of the International Labour Organization (I.L.O), Mr. Juan Somavia, introduced ILO’s newest objective, coined the Decent Work Concept. This objective focused ILO’s activities on promoting “opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity”. Against the backdrop of the rising popularity of the decent work concept, the question may be asked as to “what exactly is decent work?”

Decent work is the converging focus of four strategic objectives that are embedded in the I.L.O’s mandate and values. They include:


  1. The Promotion of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
  2. Employment
  3. Social Protection
  4. Social Dialogue


Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

This objective focuses on promoting the rights of workers to organize themselves into groups and to bargain with employers for better wages and working conditions, without any acts of anti-union discrimination. This objective also further addresses a number of rights that workers are entitled to such as:

  • Non-discrimination at the workplace with respect to race, religion, gender, ethnic or political background
  • Abolition of forced labour, including slavery or bondage
  • Abolition of child labour




This objective aims to create an environment that enables employees to maximize their performance in the workplace. Therefore, under this objective, the focal points are:


  1. Increase employees’ access to a safe and healthy work environment. Through the adherence to health and safety standards and best practices by both employers and workers, incidences of occupational accidents, injuries and diseases should be minimized. Employers should take reasonable steps to ensure that hazardous chemicals and gases are disposed of in a safe manner in accordance with the health and safety standards of the country in which they operate. They should further ensure that employees are provided with safety equipment and trained in the handling of dangerous machinery. On the other hand, workers would also be expected to assume some responsibility by complying with the safety rules and guidelines that are implemented by the organization.
  2. The provision of sufficient remuneration to meet basic living requirements. All decent work should provide employees with at least enough income to satisfy their essential requirements for food, transportation, clothing and shelter. This can be achieved through a number of measures such as minimum wage legislation, which can be used to offer some protection to those vulnerable groups of workers who could be subject to exploitation from employers, who seek to maximize profits at the expenses of their workers’ welfare. These vulnerable groups of workers include (a) unskilled workers (b) young persons (c) workers that fall outside of the collective bargaining process (d) workers with disabilities and (e) migrant labour;
  3. The creation of sufficient work opportunities.

Another precondition for decent work in any society is the provision of sufficient work opportunities for those who desire employment. This stresses the importance of keeping employment creation as a key objective for any economic and social policies and this focus has been placed on I.L.O’s global employment agenda.

Social Protection

The I.L.O. recognizes that decent work also involves ensuring that the workers of a country are entitled to some level of protection in the event of the sudden loss of income due to (a) injury on the job (b) redundancy (c) sickness, etc. However, this objective is not limited to just ensuring that a social security system is in place, but to enhance the coverage and effectiveness of such systems.

Therefore, under this objective, a key issue is to extend the coverage of social protection to the greatest possible number of workers, especially within the limited coverage of the informal sectors around the world.

Social Dialogue

Social Dialogue refers to all types of negotiation, consultation or collaboration between representatives of government, employers and workers on not only labour related issues, but on issues of general economic and social policy, which would be of interest to all the parties involved.
According to Tayo Fashoyin, a founding member of the I.L.O’s In Focus Programme on Strengthening Social Dialogue and current Director of the ILO Sub-Regional Office for Southern Africa:
“Contemporary national and international economic imperatives suggest that to confine social dialogue to labour market issues grossly understates the overwhelming influence of the macroeconomic environment on the world of work. The reality is that the changes that are today taking place in the labour market are generally just one phenomenon in a much larger and complex macro-economic policy framework.”

The Importance of the Decent Work Concept to Barbados

With limited natural resources and the strong competitive potential of Barbados’ service industries, Barbados has always been cognizant of the importance of developing its human resources to drive economic growth and development. Therefore, the Decent Work Concept, which places emphasis on a people-centered approach to the globalization process, can provide some fundamental principles for any development strategy.

Decent work acknowledges that one cannot justifiably examine issues pertaining to trade, technology, international capital flows, intellectual property rights and market access without placing equal emphasis on other issues such as poverty reduction, gender equality, social security and workers rights.

Published: Sunday, 14th May, 2006


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