A Right to Work and Fair Conditions of Employment

In Fair Work: Ethics, Social Policy, Globalization. London: Rowman and Littlefield, Intl.. pp. 41-55 (2017)
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The present paper argues that a right to work, defined as social and legal guarantees to fair conditions of employment, should be an essential part of a democratic state with market arrangements. This argument proceeds along the following lines. First, I reconstruct an account of rights that defends the “correlativity” thesis of rights and duties. The basic idea is that a social member’s legitimate demand to something of value, such as gainful employment, implies duties on the part of others to respect and fulfill it. These duties include the following with regard to that demand: avoiding actions that cause the harm, protecting it against standard threats, and otherwise providing aid in case it is deprived. Second, I sketch an outline of what a right to work will entail in terms of the correlative duties just described. This means that respect and fulfillment of the demand will require both social members and the democratic state alike to guarantee fair conditions of employment: first, by forbearing from actions that deprive members of access to work; and second, by protecting members against threats of deprivation and aiding them when they are so deprived. Third, I answer some ethical and empirical objections to the idea of a right to work: that it violates the legal rights of owners and employers, fails to impart self-respect, lacks economic efficiency, and erodes human capital by undermining competitive incentives. Finally, I make some concluding observations that a democratic right to work so conceived is ethically and economically superior to alternative arrangements that neither respect nor fulfill these correlative duties to avoid harm, protect against threats, and provide aid in cases of deprivation.

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Kory P. Schaff
California State University, Los Angeles


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