In the face of continuing mass unemployment, people have become much less discerning as to the character of their work. Instead of demanding “decent work”, they are increasingly ready to accept “any work at all“, no further questions asked. As a consequence, being “in employment“ no longer means what it used to mean: much of this concept’s ancient legal basis has been eroded, and “having a job” is, for many employees, no longer a source of pride and dignity. Standard employment contracts are becoming an endangered species, while precarious employment relationships that offer no degree of protection increase in number. For nearly all employees concerned this means: fewer rights, less income, less social protection and less certainty for the future. Access to the labour market increasingly requires – at least for a limited period – such a precarious employment relationship, i.e. a temporary or project-specific job, an unpaid internship, a work experience or a period of “temping”. Not so long ago, everybody understood what it meant to be “in employment” – nowadays, employment is becoming an increasingly diversified phenomenon. Many people with full-time jobs no longer earn enough to make a decent living and need top-up welfare payments. Work no longer protects the workers from poverty (which is why these workers are called the „working poor“).
In the capitalist system, work is subject to the laws of the market, traded as a commodity and seen as a cost factor in the production process. Work is stripped of human values such as dignity and rights: work without a fair wage, temporary work, work without any entitlement to social protection. This contorts work into a single dimension: the earned income. In reality, however, work is far more than that.
The ideology of neo-liberalism has perverted the original philosophy of entrepreneurship. It no longer revolves around the idea that work creates added value, but around the creation of money, of “shareholder value” – which means that the prospect of immediate and permanent capital profits is the sole factor determining corporate activities and the underlying economic logic. The value of an enterprise becomes synonymous with its stock market quotation. Stock market quotations, however, say little about products and production processes and even less about the work that the people are providing in the corporation’s factories and offices.
“Decent work“ reflects human needs and requirements (personal dimension)
- People who work want to exercise their skills, imagination and creativity. That’s what they mean when they say that they “want to enjoy their work”. Joyful work is productive, because the workers are highly motivated and care for their output.
- “Decent work” means that the workers enjoy high levels of liberty, autonomy and responsibility in the design of their activities. Human beings want to assume responsibility for what they do. Work must provide challenges.
- “Decent work”has a clear purpose and allows people to identify with their jobs. In many production facilities, this is simply not the case. People want their work to provide them with a sense of purpose and identity. Peace, justice, a preservation of the creation – these are no longer empty phrases but generally accepted values. Wherever employees are enabled to participate in the selection of the product range and to contribute in an innovative fashion, the objective of decent work for all has come one step closer.
“Decent work” creates social networks and brings people closer (social dimension)
- “Decent work” that provides workers with decent living conditions and due recognition benefits both employees and employers. It may require time and money, but they will be time and money well spent. Decent work requires investments. Recognition is more than the occasional pat on the back: corporations must provide resources for personnel training and development courses.
- The current and continuing “craze for youth“ has created much human suffering and must end. Young people are often prematurely forced into the deep end where they cannot cope, while older employees are shoved aside in an undignified and humiliating manner. The corporate principle that capital employment is always better than the employment of labour is also a myth. Jobs that require simple activities can also be economically viable and generate profits. Not even to mention that corporations are also subject to the ethical obligation of assuming certain social responsibilities and of providing work for those members of our societies who, for various reasons, are less efficient than the rest of us.
- Humans are social beings, also and particularly at work. Work that involves communication is humane and productive. Communication demands human and technical cooperation. This is why the one-way road of communication which is still employed in many corporations must be extended to accommodate all stakeholders. It is crucial to develop strategies against bullying and harassment at work.
- “Decent work“ is, above all, work in a context of institutional co-determination. Joint deliberations and jointly agreed decisions, transparency and shared responsibility allow the workers to identify with their work. This requires the institutions of co-determination to evolve further, on the level of both the individual corporation and the wider economy.
Family and career remain largely unreconciled. Family relations often compete with business obligations – and lose. “Decent work“ acknowledges that human lives unfold in personal relationships, it respects this fact and encourages the workers to develop and cultivate their interpersonal networks. This is why more flexible working patterns are required which do not simply subject human beings to the dictate of the work schedule but also strive to adapt working hours and working conditions to the social needs of the workers.