Decent work overview

What is decent work?

Decent work is a term coined by the International Labour Organizationopens in new tab (ILO) to describe what good work looks like — fair, stable, and productive. The term inspires both movement building around good work and actions across various levels, including organizational, network and policy, to make decent work a reality.

Decent work specifically ties together the goals of social protection, economic security, thriving businesses, and community well-being. It's not just about meeting minimum requirements, but that good work is important for everyone in our communities to thrive.

Although the ILO has many measurements for decent work, there are seven key indicators that the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) has determined in its Change Work: Valuing Decent Work in the Nonprofit Sector report (PDF, 2.9MB) that align well with the nonprofit and charitable sector:

  • Employment opportunities
  • Fair wages
  • Health and retirement benefits
  • Stable employment
  • Opportunity for development and advancement
  • Equality rights at work
  • Culture and leadership

An intersectional lens on these indicators illuminates how decent work impacts diverse workers, which is of particular importance since 80 percent of the nonprofit sector’s workforce across Canada consists of womenopens in new tab. Although there is a lack of data on worker demographics, anecdotally we know that many of them are Black and immigrant women.

The concept of decent work is values-based, which is why it resonates well with nonprofits. Just as equity, inclusion, collective, and well-being values underpin the sector’s missions, they also underpin decent work so that the pursuit of work does not come at a social and economic cost for some. Rather, it's a source of dignity for everyone.

Decent work is a critical pathway to gender equity, racial justice, and reconciliation in the nonprofit sector. When our sector’s women-majority and racialized workforce can access decent work it ensures that not only do the marginalized communities they serve get the best care, but historically discriminated against workers have economic security as well. In this way then, the sector can move alongside gender equity, racial justice, and reconciliation movements.

Decent work is a global movement

Decent work is a global movement, driven by the International Labour Organization’s ongoing emphasis  and its inclusion in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Goal number 8 is a universal call for "Promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all".

In Canada, the decent work movement spans sectors and industries. SHARE encourages a dialogue between shareholders and companies about the link between decent work and long-term value, the Decent Work & Health Network advocates for decent work as a social determinant of health, the Better Way Alliance consists of business owners who support decent work and see it as part of their bottom line, and the Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Councilopens in new tab is looking at what decent work means for Indigenous peoples and Indigenous-led nonprofits (PDF, 11.2MB).

The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) has been building a decent work movement in Ontario’s nonprofit sector for almost a decade and is supporting its expansion across the sector in Canada. ONN’s work is grounded in its Shaping the Future (PDF, 3.1MB) and Change Work (PDF, 2.9MB) reports, which highlight challenges and opportunities related to decent work in the sector.

ONN has developed a variety of tools as well as created and launched sector-wide employee benefitsopens in new tab and pension plansopens in new tab and is now working on a parental leave benefits top-up fund for employees who become new parents. Moreover, employment standards are the backbone of decent work and so ONN continues to advocate for raising the employment floor for everyone.

The benefits of decent work

We all benefit from nonprofits that invest in decent work. As employees, we excel when we experience fair working conditions that improve our quality of life. As employers, we attract and retain high-calibre staff (and save money!) by offering good jobs. As funders, our investments move the needle on complex social issues and there is increased value for the funding dollar.

And as a nonprofit sector, we are better able to achieve our missions in our communities because decent work builds a stronger, more resilient sector. The sector’s biggest asset and vehicle for serving communities is its labour force and if they are treated well, our communities will receive the best care.

At this moment, decent work is more important than ever for our sector. High quality jobs that are fair, stable, and productive are a critical way to recruit and retain the best people to carry out our community oriented missions and solve the most complex social problems of our time.

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