Right to Work : Status and Legalities – UPSC GS3

 What is Right to Work?
The right to work is the concept that people have a human right to work, or engage in productive employment, and may not be prevented from doing so.
Broader understanding of the right to work:
  • Often ‘right to work’ is interpreted as the right to employment guarantee. This, however, is a narrow interpretation of the right to work.
  • Ensuring the right to work in the broader sense entails creating employment opportunities which can ensure gainful employment and a dignified living for the worker. This dignity is supposed to come from work conditions, such as being paid a fair wage and having regulated work hours which constitute the equally important right ‘in work’ principle. Apart from mere employment guarantee, such work should be fulfilling, work should be creative.
Why in news?
Given the large population in India, providing for adequate employment for all has always been a challenge in the Indian scenario. The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have further deteriorated the employment situation in India. The unemployment rate has been soaring.
Legal status of the right to work:
International status:
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to work in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. They recognise the right to work in an employment of one’s choice and the State’s responsibility to safeguard this right.
  • India has acceded to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Status in India:
Constitutional status:
  • The Indian Constitution does not explicitly recognise the ‘right to work’ as a fundamental right. It is placed in Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) of the Constitution under Article 41, which hence makes it unenforceable in the court of law.
    • Article 41 of the Constitution provides that “the State shall within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.”
Judicial interpretation:
  • Despite the absence of an express wording of the ‘right to work’ in Part III (Fundamental Rights) of the Constitution, it became a ‘fundamental right’ through a judicial interpretation. The wider interpretation of Article 21 made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court through its judgement in Olga Tellis & Ors. v Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors.- ‘right to work’ was recognised as a fundamental right inherent in the ‘right to life’.
  • The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’ in a limited fashion. It aims to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. Notably, under MGNREGA, a person can hold the state accountable for not fulfilling the right by demanding an unemployment allowance.
  • However, it has to be noted that MGNREGA only ensures the right to work as a statutory right, which can be amended or withdrawn as per the government’s whims and fancies.
Economic scenario in India:
  • India has been seeing a declining jobs-to-GDP ratio, and mostly jobless growth.
  • The path of economic development has not only failed to create adequate new employment opportunities, but has also led to displacement and dispossession of people from their means of livelihood. This necessitates the need to envision the right to work in a creative way and make it legally enforceable.
  • Current circumstances necessitate the need for greater focus on the principle of the right to work.
Way forward:
  • Some of the possible policy approaches to the right to work would involve the following measures:
  • Urban employment programme: Together with MGNREGA, an Urban Employment Guarantee scheme can help ensure the right to work.
  • Government Jobs : There are a considerable number of vacant posts in government jobs. These are posts that are sanctioned but not yet filled. This needs to be filled in a time-bound manner.
  • Increasing Public Expenditure
  • Encouraging Private Sector and Self Employment
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