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Definition & Legal Instruments


Working time refers to the amount of time a person a person engages in paid labour in a given time period, including overtime. ILO standards on working time provide the framework for regulating hours of work, daily and weekly rest periods, and annual holidays. Most countries have statutory limits of weekly working hours of 48 hours or less, and the hours actually worked per week in most countries are less than the 48-hour standard established in ILO conventions. These limits serve to promote higher productivity while safeguarding workers’ physical and mental health. Standards on part-time work have become increasingly important instruments for addressing such issues as job creation and promoting equality between men and women.

Legal Instruments

ILO and UN Conventions

Two ILO conventions relate to working time:

Additional ILO Instruments on Working Time

Other relevant ILO instruments on working time include:

These conventions have not been widely ratified, except for ILO Convention No.1, which has been ratified by most countries. However, ratification does not ensure that the provision or enforcement of legal protection is of equal efficacy across all countries.

In addition to the ILO instruments, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) also includes relevant provisions regarding hours of work. Article 7 ICESCR affirms the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work including “[r]est, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays”.

Other Legal Instruments

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) set the global standard regarding the responsibility of business to respect human rights in their operations and across their value chains. The Guiding Principles call upon States to consider a smart mix of measures — national and international, mandatory and voluntary — to foster business respect for human rights.

Regional and Domestic Legislation

Companies are increasingly subject to non-financial reporting and due diligence obligations in the jurisdictions in which they operate, which often include disclosures on their performance. There are several high-profile examples of national legislation that specifically mandate human rights-related reporting and other positive legal duties, including the United Kingdom Modern Slavery Act 2015Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010, the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law 2017German Act on Corporate Due Diligence Obligations in Supply Chains 2021 and the Norwegian Transparency Act 2022.

Also, in 2021 the Netherlands submitted a Bill for Responsible and Sustainable International Business Conduct, and the European Commission announced its Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD). This Directive is likely to come into force between 2025 and 2027 and will make human rights and environmental due diligence mandatory for larger companies.

These mandatory due diligence and disclosure laws require companies to publicly communicate their efforts to address actual and potential human rights impacts, including violations in relation to freedom of association. Failure to comply with these obligations leads to real legal risk for companies.

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