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The functions and values of work


The labour market is changing constantly. This constant change calls for a periodic re-evaluation of the functions and values of work. Does the function of different kinds of work change, for example, when it comes to generating an income and livelihood, care for children and other family members, social cohesion, and participation in society? Does the valuation of different aspects of work change, including working time, terms of employment, working conditions, and labour relations? Such questions require answers offered from different scientific perspectives. A legal question would be whether the traditional functions of labour law (protection of those in dependent employment and structuring of labour relations) are still relevant in the 21stcentury, or must be revised. A more social-scientific question is how the value of different kinds of work is perceived by members of the working population themselves, as well as by the organisations employing them. To what extent ought valuation of work done in different occupations and under different forms of employment be allowed to vary before inequality is deemed too great? Which minimum quality criteria must work meet in these times of flexibilisation, outsourcing, and platform work, putting work at risk of commodification? Special attention is further merited for those in so-called precarious work, made vulnerable by the nature of their work (flexible, low pay) as well as by a lack of alternative personal sources (e.g. due to lack of education or health).

A more general question is which basic principles and conditions ought to apply to all working people. Is everyone entitled to, for example, a ‘decent’ income, safe and proper working conditions, and minimum protection from dismissal? And how could such rights be anchored in labour and social security legislation?