Workers’ Rights Violations Are on the Rise – But What Exactly Are They?  

May Day march for workers’ rights in Minneapolis, Minnesota May 1, 2015. Image by Fibonacci Blue on WikiMedia Commons

By Leila Breland-shinn, age 11

Workers all around the world have been striking in record numbers. According to the  Global Rights Index, which covers 148 countries, these workers have good reason: The index found that workers’ rights violations hit a record high in 2022. But what exactly are workers’ rights?

Labor is something that most people in society need to do in order to eat and afford shelter. Before the abolition of slavery, the majority of labor jobs were done by slaves who were unpaid and treated terribly. Labor was changed dramatically by the Industrial Revolution. Many people–including children as young as 5 years old–went from working on farms to working in factories. These workers dealt with dangerous machines, and deaths were frequent. Their pay was awful, and they had to work incredibly long hours. Unlike now, the government took very little interest in creating safety standards or protecting workers from poor treatment by their employers. These dire conditions led to workers’ movements, as people began to demand better treatment from employers and eventually formed groups called labor unions.   
While there’s no rulebook that says what employers have to do, the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) says that there are “fundamental principles and rights” which ILO members are required to respect. They state that all employees should be allowed to join a union, forced labor and child labor are not allowed, no employer should discriminate against any worker, and employers must provide a safe and healthy work environment.

The ILO explains that workers’ rights are human rights. Both human rights and workers’ rights are essential for an equal and just society and give us equality, justice and freedom of expression for all. When workers have rights and feel like their voices are being heard in their workplace, it can lead to improved productivity, increased consumer demand and more and better jobs.

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