This depends a lot upon what is meant by a human right. Personally, I do not go for ideas of rights, only of duties. But the question remains valid - does the government have a duty to make sure anyone who wants a job can get one?

The 17th Century philosophers Locke and Hobbes aimed to theorise what human society should look like by taking as a base the manner in which humans beings behave in a “State of Nature”. However, they came up with very different pictures of what it would be like to live under such circumstances. Whilst Locke believed that in general people would behave according to a moral code, and respect one another’s rights over the fruits of their labour, Hobbes believed anarchy meant lawlessness, and that life in the State of Nature would be nasty, brutish and short.

For Hobbes, it was the duty of the state to create an arbitrary system of laws, and punish with death anyone who breaks these laws. This would be the only way to ensure order, as human beings are naturally selfish. There can be no human rights under Hobbes, and whatever the state does is just.

For Locke, on the other hand, the state does not have its origins in the same kind of violence as pervades Hobbes. The state of nature is a state of tranquillity and peace, governed by the natural law, a kind of Garden of Eden. A state is only necessary, when the community grows sufficiently large, to codify the natural law, to prevent any confusion or disagreement. The state is not so much making laws as it is upholding what are already self evident truths – namely the right to private ‘property’, what Locke defines as “Life, Liberty and Estate”.

So where does the right to work fit into this? Certainly it is the duty of the government to ensure the freedom to work. However, in a state of nature as seen by Locke, one gets the idea that everyone is self employed, as farmers, hunters, or craftsmen of whatever sort. If a job means self-employment, then surely the onus must be on the individual to get out there and cut some firewood.

However, today’s post-industrial economy is different from that of Locke’s day. Everything is owned by someone or other. Without capital, you cannot set up your own enterprise. Instead you rely upon other people to offer you employment, to buy your labour and skills to put to productive use for their own gain, and compensate you with a salary.

If it were entirely down to you whether or not you are able to obtain a “job”, so to speak, then there would be no sense in calling the right to work a human right. If you don’t have a job, then you should get on your bike and find work, because there is work available. However, in today’s complex economy, this is not necessarily the case. It is possible for there to be a surplus of labour in the economy. To be specific, it may be the case that level of profits which the owners of capital require to coax them to higher labour is below the marginal cost of labour (the going wage rate). This will result in a labour surplus, more widely known as unemployment.

If it is the case, as most economists believe, that the government can do something about this unemployment, and so ensure everyone who is willing to accept work, at the going wage rate, is able to find a job, then we must equate “freedom to work” with a corresponding duty upon the government to make sure there is always work available – i.e. to create demand for labour in the economic, making full employment a goal of its macro-economic policy.

Therefore, having a job should be a human right, as long as the humans in question are prepared to do it.

I would disagree with C-Dawg's write-up below on the basis that as I have explained, the social contract puts a duty on the state, acting as the social collective, to ensure that sufficient jobs are available to make sure everyone who wants work can find it. I don't think that denying the state exists is a valid basis for understanding the complexity of human relations.

This was writen on behalf of Glowing Fish as a nodeshell challenge

Easy question. The answer is no.

What are rights?

  • Rights are inherent in a person. They are not bestowed by any other person or by the government, they cannot be taken away by any other person or by the government. (They can, of course, be infringed through the application of force.)
  • They inhere in individuals, not in groups. The government does not have rights, nor do your family, your church, or your Little League team. Obviously this does not say that groups of people cannot agree to exercise their rights in concert for the good of the group.
  • Vitally important, and mostly ignored these days, is that a right of one person cannot impose an obligation on another. Keeping this principle in mind makes answering questions such as this node poses very easy.

There is no problem saying that each person has a right to work. Equally, each person has a right not to work — but that right does not and cannot create an obligation for any other person to support him.

If we say that a person has a right to a job, what else are we saying? That some other person has the obligation to employ him, whether he wants to or not. That is unacceptable.

When you hear these people talk about rights, as you particularly do during election season, ask yourself: are we really talking about rights? The fact is, at the same time the politicians and the talking heads are talking about the "rights" we all have, you don't hear them talking about the real rights that they're infringing.

Right to health care?
No, you have no right to "health care". What you do have is a right to protect your own health as you wish, but many such avenues have been made illegal.
Right to education?
No, you have no right to be educated. What you do have is a right to learn, and to contract with others to help you. Except that opting out of government schooling is tricky and expensive.
Right to a job?
No, you have no right to a job. What you do have is a right to contract with another to do work for him in return for remuneration, and a right to contract with another to do work for you. But those rights are infringed on all sides by minimum wage laws, labor union laws, and laws such as affirmative action and the ADA.

Being a resident of the USA, the laws I refer to are the ones in place there.

"Having a job" is indeed a basic human right. I wouldn't try to argue it to the boss when you are being fired, though.

Economic Rights under International Law

International treaty law does, in fact, recognize that employment is a basic human right.

Article 7 of the "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights", adopted by the UN General Assemby in 1966 and ratified by member states in 1976, provides:

The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular:
  • (a) Remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with:
  • (b) Safe and healthy working conditions;
  • (c) Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted in his employment to an appropriate higher level, subject to no considerations other than those of seniority and competence;
  • (d ) Rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays

Arguably these are merely aspirational goals. The specifics of equal employment opportunity will vary among the "municipal" (e.g. internal, national) laws of the various member states. Generally speaking, however, all the people of the world do have a "right to work".

"Right-to-Work" Laws in the United States

Many states, including my own, have "Right To Work" laws. These are misnamed for politcal reasons. Such laws provide no "right" to a job. "Right-To-Work" laws make closed-shop collective bargaining agreements illegal, so you don't have to join a union if you don't want to. That doesn't confer any "rights" on anyone, except arguably the right to benefit from union representation without paying dues.

The Right to the "Pursuit of Happiness"

The Declaration of Independence asserted the belief that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Your high school civics class may have told you that a right to "pursuit of happiness" is not found in the basic law of the land, the Constitution. What your high school civics teacher probably did not mention is that the "pursuit of happiness" has been enacted as positive law through State constitutions. A typical provision is the first Article of the Vermont "Declaration of Rights":

That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent, and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety...

It would be difficult to argue a legal right to employment or education from this Constitutional provision. Certainly, you could not use it to claim a right to a particular job you want. Still, it codifies a principle of fairness and equal opportunity which underlies a lot of other law: primarily equal protection and due process cases. Upon those two phrases, found in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitutions, has been erected a great legal edifice of constitutional law which, together with anti-discrimination statutes, grants a "right to work" in the sense of equal opportunity.

For example, government employees --once they have a vested, full-time, non-probationary job-- have the right not to be fired arbitrarily, that is, without "good cause". That may not sound like much of a right, if you are unaware that employees in the private sector can generally be fired for any reason or no reason at all. The special rule for public employees is expressly grounded on the due process clause, but is informed by the background notions of equal opportunity enshrined in international law, the Declaration of Independence, and many State constitutions.

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