Free Online Courses: Workers’ Rights in a Global Economy


Course Summary

Rights and dignity at the workplace are fundamental human rights. However, workers’ rights continue to be violated every day – millions of people worldwide are facing exploitative working hours, poverty wages, humiliation and mistreatment at work. There are estimates that today’s world has a higher number of slaves than any other time in history.
This MOOC discusses what Global Workers’ Rights are and which instruments and strategies can be used to implement them. Based on a careful mix of video lectures, readings, online resources and interviews with activists and labour scholars from around the world, you will gain both knowledge and practical skills for furthering workers’ rights worldwide.

What will I learn

At the end of the course you will understand the history and concept of global workers’ rights and the institutional structure of the International Labour Organization (ILO) as the key player in setting International Labour Standards. You will be able to join the economic debate about labour standards and competitiveness, and understand the concepts behind the fundamental rights of Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining. You will understand the different approaches for realizing decent work in the informal economy and gain an overview of instruments and initiatives beyond the ILO. The course also allows you to apply this knowledge to a practical case from your country and gain skills and competencies for using the existing instruments and mechanisms for protecting workers’ rights.

What do I need to know?

The course requires a working level of English and draws on the fields of political science and law at the level of a Masters programme. However, theoretical concepts are explained in an accessible and well-illustrated way, so it is also possible to participate in the course based on skills and knowledge acquired outside formal education.

Course Structure

Chapter 1: The concept of Global Workers’ Rights

This chapter introduces the concept of Global Workers’ Rights and explains the history and functioning of the International Labour Organization (ILO) as the organization setting International Labour Standards (ILS). The prospects and challenges of the ILO approach to Global Workers’ Rights are debated, and you will learn about the mainstream economic arguments against ILS and how to assess them critically.

Chapter 2: Introduction to International Labour Standards (ILS)

Which types of International Labour Standards exist and how are they set? Which actors are involved and how are they interlinked? This chapter provides an overview on International Labour Standards and lays the foundation for understanding the standard setting mechanisms at the ILO. The role of trade unions in this process is illustrated through a concrete example of a recent and ground-breaking Convention for one of the most vulnerable groups of workers.

Chapter 3: Supervision of International Labour Standards (ILS)

This chapter aims at enabling you to understand and use the ILO supervisory mechanisms for the protection of workers’ rights. The elaborate process is illustrated in a concise and hands-on way. At the end of the chapter, the mid-term assignment invites you to apply your newly acquired knowledge to a practical case from your country. The assignment is due at the end of chapter 4, followed by a peer-review. The peer-review method will allow you to deepen your knowledge on other countries and to learn from each other.

Chapter 4: Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining
Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining are ‘enabling rights’ at the heart of decent work. But what is the legal concept of Freedom of Association under Convention 87 and what makes it fundamental to the implementation of International Labour Standards? This chapter will also provide you with an overview on the current debate on the right to strike.

Chapter 5: Access to rights for workers in informal and precarious employment
This chapter focuses on the challenge of realizing rights for workers in informal and precarious employment. We will explore the specific dynamics in the informal economy and innovative approaches for increasing workers’ protection in this challenging field.

Chapter 6: Instruments and initiatives beyond the ILO
What are instruments and initiatives beyond the ILO in the struggle for workers’ rights? What is the role of Corporate Social Responsibility and what can we learn from Global Framework Agreements? How can the OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights be used; and what about social clauses in trade agreements? This concluding chapter provides both practical skills and space for discussion on the governance of workers’ rights in a global economy.

Final exam: Multiple-choice-test
Students choosing the certificate track will have one week study time before taking a multiple choice test on the course content.

Among those completing the certificate track, we will cast a lot to select three students who will be invited to participate in the 10th Global Labour University Conference “Sharing the Gains – Containing Corporate Power”, 30 September to 2 October 2015, Washington, D.C. You will find more information on the conference on:


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