Chapter 1: Perspectives on labour and human rights
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Virginia Leary once observed a curious phenomenon: that labour law and human rights law are on parallel tracks that rarely cross. This phenomenon is unexpected because some of the most obvious violations of individuals’ human rights, for instance, slave labour or child labour, occur when they are working. But until recently many human rights scholars veered off and focused on civil and political rights, all but ignoring rights that are violated when people are working. It is as if individuals, when they are viewed as workers, are compartmentalized, sealed off and cast to the side in human rights scholarship. This may result from the fact that some see labour law as governing work relationships and fail to consider the human rights dimensions of the employment or work arrangement. It may also result from the fact that those human rights scholars who focus on civil and political rights tend to see the State as the actor who violates the human rights of individuals, either directly or by failing to enforce the law or remedy violations. This is a very public law focus, and most employment and work relations are the subject of private law. Except when considering the most blatant situations (such as slavery), human rights scholars typically overlook how human rights guarantees affect people at work. This lack of consideration may be related to the fact that most employment and work relationships flow from an agreement by the worker to perform work in return for compensation.