Labour rights in the context of structural adjustment and financial consolidation policies


The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on human rights, Mr. Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky presented to the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council a thematic report on the impact of structural adjustment and fiscal consolidation policies on labour rights contained in international human rights law (A/HRC/34/57).

In many countries, austerity-related labour law reforms have been promoted by international financial institutions on the assumption that they will lead to economic growth and thus prevent or help overcome debt crises.

Many countries have adopted in response to financial crises fiscal consolidation measures, such as reducing the public sector wage bill or the number of people employed in the public sector, and labour market reforms to render the labour market more flexible and thereby increase the competitiveness of their economies. These measures include the modification of labour laws, freezing or reducing the minimum wage, extending working hours, and weakening the collective bargaining system through decentralization. Sometimes such measures have have contravened states’ international obligations, erode labour rights, or resulted in retrogression of work-related gender equality.

There is also concern that such labour market reforms contribute to an increase in insecure and informal employment; foster discrimination in the labour market towards young and older persons, persons with disabilities, and individuals belonging to marginalised social groups; and result in the reduction of unemployment benefits and other job-related social protection.

On the other hand, certain reform measures may have resulted in significant improvements in the enjoyment of labour and other economic, social and cultural rights contained in international human rights treaties.

The report analyses the relationship between labour rights and sovereign debt, focusing on labour market reforms and austerity measures implemented in the context of sovereign debt crises. The report explores the ways in which austerity measures and labour market reform have modified, both in law and in practice, collective and individual labour rights at the domestic level. The report will conclude with proposals for improving protection of individual and collective labour rights during sovereign debt crises and times of austerity.

Read the full report of the Independent Expert

Questionnaires and submission of responses

In the context of preparing his report, the Independent Expert invited contributions and views from States, national human rights institutions and civil society by 30 September 2016.

Questionnaire for Governments and National Human Rights Institutions:English | French | Spanish

Questionnaire for international financial institutions:English | French

Questionnaire for civil society organisations and trade unions:English | French

Substantive responses received from Governments, national human rights institutions, and non-governmental organisations


National human rights institutions

Civil society organisations

Other responses received

  • Denmark - Danish Human Rights Institute
  • European Investment Bank
  • Lithuania Seimas Ombudsmen's Office