Empowering Workers with Human Rights

Empowering Workers

Workers’ rights cannot be seen in isolation, that is labour rights and human rights should be viewed as an integral part of labour relations. This has various aspects starting from safety norms to that which even governs the quantum of off-time that a worker is entitled to. Human rights for workers therefore have a lot to do with relations between workers and employers applicable under labour and employment law and are generally related to negotiation of pay and allowances, benefits and safe working conditions.

The Human Rights Act is based on the European Convention on Human Rights and adds protection for workers’ rights and freedom. The provisions of the Act are primarily focussed on work related environment and similar matters.

There are two aspects to the Act. In the public sector, it is unlawful for employers to violate any provisions of the Act and thereby human rights as laid down by the Convention. In the private sector, it will not be possible for workers to make a claim against employers for breach of human rights. However, to get around this possibility, human rights laws are have now been generally incorporated in employment laws and this is applicable to all employers irrespective of the sector of work.

A couple of examples will illustrate this point better. In the private sector certain provisions of human rights have to be followed mandatorily. Not to be discriminated against because of one’s sexuality is a case in point. Another instance of the private sector is the operation of beauty clinics and spas. A technician working on an IPL hair removal machine is often required to keep extended hours. This is because his is a specialised job that cannot be substituted by an ordinary worker and secondly because clients often request to be treated by those they have come to rely on and trust. In such cases, keeping the welfare of the technician in mind and the human rights angle, compensatory leave or proportionate overtime wages have to be paid.

What then are the principles of the Human Rights Act that ensures that the worker gets rights as given in the Convention? One of the primary ones relate to the right to have a private and family life. An employer who discriminates on the basis of sexuality (gay rights) will be violating the right of the worker to have a private life.

However, an employer too has the right to oversee certain areas and monitor them closely. These include a worker’s official emails, internet access, telephone calls, data and images. However, the worker has to be informed and should know that these are being tracked by the employer. But even then, as per the Convention and human rights principles, a worker has a right to see and know about all information being held about him/her including emails and CCTV coverage.

If a worker feels that human rights have been breached, the first thing that needs to be done is informing the employer. The grievance redressing procedure will be clearly stated in the work contract and the letter of employment. As a last resort, legal action can be initiated but since human rights laws are complex, it is always advisable to take the considered opinion of a labour law expert before doing so.