Decent Work

Decent Work is an internationally recognised goal to provide good jobs for all.

The ‘Decent Work Agenda’ was adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) a decade ago. It recognises the central role of work in people’s lives and that the quality of work is crucial to a cohesive and more equal society.

Australian unions believe that working life should be enjoyable and that it should give people the satisfaction of using their skills to the fullest measure, and making a contribution to the common good. It should provide fulfilling social interactions, freedom, dignity, economic security and equal opportunity.

At its 2009 Congress, the ACTU endorsed a Decent Work policy for the first time that is focused on seven objectives central to improving the quality and dignity of work in Australia today:

  • An inclusive workforce
  • Satisfying jobs
  • Friendly workplaces
  • Reasonable working hours
  • Fair treatment at work
  • Freedom, equality and dignity at work
  • Progressive use of technology


It is in the interests of all workers to support decent work in all nations. Where this does not exist, corporations will shift capital and production to take advantage of those workers.

Elements of decent work
An inclusive workplace should reflect the make-up of the diverse Australian community, providing equal opportunities for all people, regardless of gender, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, language, religion or beliefs, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Job roles should be designed so that they are safe, productive and satisfying. Employees should have reasonable control over their duties, and jobs should encourage continuous learning.

Employers, employees and unions should work together to ensure workplaces are safe, environmentally and worker friendly. Workplaces should be pleasant places to work, with a minimal impact on the environment and an important venue for social interaction.

Working hours should be reasonable, predictable and within the control of the employee. Employees should not regularly work more than 48 hours a week, should have predictable hours of work, and a significant degree of control over their working hours.

Employers should treat their staff fairly and in good faith, giving them the right to be represented by a union in all dealings, and consulting them and their unions on important workplace changes before final decisions are taken. No worker should be dismissed unfairly.

Work should promote the full range of employees’ freedoms and human rights, including freedom of association and expression, and privacy. Employers should respect the autonomy and dignity of each worker, with equal treatment and decisions based on merit. The distinct culture and rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees must be recognised and respected.

Technology should be used to improve employees’ working lives, not to erode their autonomy. There is a particular risk that new devices will allow work to creep into employees’ personal lives, increasing unpaid working hours. New technologies should also not be used to spy on employees, monitor their movements or correspondence, or to intensify work. Employees and their unions should be consulted before major technologies are introduced into the workplace.


What’s next
The ACTU and its affiliates will pursue and promote the decent work agenda over coming years through:

  • Enterprise bargaining and agreements between employers and employees and their unions to adopt the principles of decent work with clauses in agreements that support decent work.
  • Lobbying governments to legislate for elements of the decent work agenda that are not already enshrined in law.
  • Conducting and sponsoring research on decent work policies and their role in improving job satisfaction and business productivity.
  • A renewed effort to eliminate discrimination in the workplace.