Right to Work – Meaning, Features and the Indian Constitution


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As the Government passes the new labor laws and when the sudden loss of employment of thousands of laborers during the Covid 19 pandemic captures the limelight, the question of the right to work has become a focus of many. The ‘’right to work’’ is an essential part of human life. One must work to earn and fulfill the basic needs of one’s life. It is considered to be one of the foundations for the realization of other human rights. But time and again this right has come into question. It thus becomes important to understand this issue and see its various aspects to come to a legitimate conclusion.

Right-to-Work mindmap

This topic of “Right to Work – Meaning, Features and the Indian Constitution” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.


Right to work refers to the right of any individual to work or engage in any productive employment and in this process he or she may not be prevented from doing so. It is the right of the workers to gain and keep employment whether or not they belong to a labor union. It is also known as workplace freedom or workplace choice.


  • The phrase ‘’right to work’’ was coined by French socialist leader Loius Blanc during the time of social turmoil and rising unemployment in the wake of the 1846 financial crisis which led to the French Revolution later on.
  • With passing time this right has gained importance as one of the human rights as it is important for the fulfillment of basic necessities of life and for maintaining a decent standard of living.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in  Article 23.1 recognizes the right to work and states- “ Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. “
  • Similarly, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to work and states- ”The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”

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Salient features

  • Equal pay for equal work– It is one of the rights enshrined in ‘right to work’ as without it the right may prove to be meaningless. It includes a full range of benefits like salary, bonus, etc. an employee should enjoy irrespective of his or her caste. religion, sex, or others.
  • Right to an adequate standard of living-It is essential that every individual has access to food, clothing, shelter, and basic necessities of life to maintain a decent standard of living. Right to work can be helpful in achieving this goal.
  • Labour laws- Labor laws play a prominent role in protecting the right to work of the employees. The laws ensure that laborers are getting fair treatment and protection from any kind of exploitation.
  • Fair remuneration– ‘Right to work’ also enshrines in itself the right to obtain a fair remuneration after the transfer of a good or after providing any service.

Right to work and the Indian Constitution

  • India is a welfare state which implies that the social and economic welfare of the citizens is one of the primary tasks of the lawmakers.
  • The Indian Constitution does not explicitly mention the ‘right to work’ as a fundamental right. It is through Article 41 in part IV of the Constitution that the ‘right to work’ finds its place.
  • The Constitution of India enjoins upon the State, the duty to secure the social and economic rights of the people. The Constitution under part IV dealing with the Directive Principles of State Policy prescribes the state to make effective provisions for securing the “right to work” and “right to public assistance in cases of unemployment”.
  • Article 39 of the Indian Constitution specifically requires the state to direct its policies towards securing the following principles which are related to the ‘right to work’. These include:
  1. Equal rights of men and women to adequate means of livelihood.
  2. Equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
  3. others
  • Article 41 directs the State to ensure people within the limits of its economic capacity and development – employment, public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness, disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.
  • Article 43 requires the State to take steps by suitable legislation or in any other way to secure the participation of workers in the management of industries, establishments, or other organizations engaged in any industry.
  • Article 43 also prescribes a ‘living wage’ and not a ‘minimum wage’. The concept of a ‘living wage’ comprises not only the basic necessities of life but also provisions for the education of children, insurance, etc.
  • Article 47 imposes the duty upon the State to raise the standard of living of its people in addition to other duties.
  • The Supreme Court in its judgment in Olga Tellis & Ors. v Bombay Municipal Corporation & Ors. recognized the ‘right to work’ as a  fundamental right inherent in the “right to life”.
  • In addition, India is a signatory to all the provisions of the ‘right to work’ of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

Government Initiatives

The Government has tried a number of times to ensure the ‘right to work’ of its citizens through various measures. There are several Central and State laws governing the employment sector and regulating the various aspects of it. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • The Central laws regulating and ensuring the various aspects of the right to work include:
  • The Factories Act, 1948.
  • Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
  • The Minimum Wages Act, 1948
  • Payment of Wages Act, 1936.
  • The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.
  • Employees Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952.
  • Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.
  • The Payment of Bonus Act, 1965.
  • Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.
  • Workmen Compensation Act, 1923.
  • Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.

The Government launches various schemes from time to time to ensure that the citizens are not deprived of their right to work and to have adequate means of livelihood.  Some of the schemes by the Government are:

  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act(MNREGA) – Launched in February 2005, the scheme desires to enhance the livelihood security of people living in rural areas of the country by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. The Act covers all the rural areas in the country.
  • Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana(SGRY) – The primary objective of the Scheme is to generate wage employment and is open to all the educated unemployed youth of urban and rural areas who are in need of employment.
  • National Rural Livelihoods Mission(Ajeevika) – Launched by the Government of India in 2011, the Scheme tries to provide jobs with regular income to rural poor on monthly basis with the help of forming self-help groups.
  • Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme(PMEGP) – This is a credit-linked Scheme of the Government of India and its primary objective is to generate continuous and sustainable employment in rural and urban areas of the country.
  • Other schemes include Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana(PMKVY), Jawahar Rojgar Yojana, Employment Assurance Scheme, etc.


Arguments for

  • Right-to-work laws expand workers’ rights.
  • This right holds the workers’ unions accountable.
  • This law gives the workers more financial freedom.
  • It creates more manufacturing jobs.
  • Right to work brings more competition at workplace
  • It improves the economic standards of a country.
  • It leads to the wages being more competitive.
  • It provides freedom of association. It provides an opportunity for equal due process.
  • It can limit corruption.

Arguments against

  • These rights may make businesses less competitive at the global level.
  • Wages can be lower in many places where right-to-work legislation is in place.
  • There are fewer benefits for workers in the places having the right to work.
  • It leads to a fewer turnout of the unions.
  • Economic exploitation of the workers by the workers’ union.
  • Injury and death rates are higher in right-to-work states.
  • Emergency service workers are exempted from right-to-work provisions.

The road ahead

Providing every citizen in India the employment opportunity and ensuring employment of their choice is a difficult task yet it is not impossible. The Government should take appropriate steps in consultation with all the stakeholders to protect and ensure the ‘right to work’ of all the citizens of the country. India has come a long way and it still has a lot to do in this field.

Practise Question

  1. What is the right to work and how is the Government trying to ensure this right to the Indian citizens?


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thank u

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