Employment: A Right Or A Privilege?

Rights: A  moral or legal entitlement to have or do something.

Privilege: Something regarded as a special honour.

The above two definitions come from the Oxford dictionary. So which do you believe is correct when debating whether having employment is a person’s right or a privilege? Can it in some cases be both?

Do you know someone, (possibly even yourself) who has a job they loathe, but the pay is sufficient for them and so they stick at it? For the person in that situation it is hardly a special honour. Yet on the other hand, is a person in any position to make an employer give them work as if they were legally or morally bound to do so?

There are people though who claim it is their right to work just as there are people who will tell you that to hold their position is a privilege. I myself believe that my position as an Employment Counsellor is a great privilege. As I see it, it’s a position where I’m acutely aware of the fragility of the population I serve; unemployed and on social assistance. Therefore to be in such a position is a privilege and an honour.

But what about you? Do you believe your job is a privilege or are you the opinion that the job is now one of your rights? Would you feel differently if the employer told you that you were no longer required and they fired you? Would you say, “But I’ve got a right to this job?” Well then, what about the, ‘right’ to strike and withhold your services? Is that a right you negotiated and won with the employer? Does the right to strike if you have it, also mean you have a right to work? So many questions!

What if the question were flipped around as in, “Do you have the right to not work?” and if so does society have an obligation to provide you with shelter, food; some quality of life if you are fully capable but opt to pass on working? Some people think the answer is yes, and others disagree.

Personally, I keep the idea of the position I have being a privilege foremost in my mind as I go about my job. When I am at work I often tell my clients that it is a privilege to serve them and their needs. I think in some cases at least that saying that has caught them off guard because being in their situation, they are more often than not used to being treated poorly by those in positions of authority.

Were I unemployed and on social assistance, I know that I’d want all the people who I come in contact with in the social services system to still treat me with respect and see me as a person first and foremost. I sure wouldn’t want someone in a position to help or hinder me to see me as anything less than deserving of their respect.

As you go about your job, would you do so any differently if you say your job as a privilege that could be revoked at any time if you gave less than your best? Suppose for example that your customers or clients were asked to rate you on a monthly basis. At the conclusion of each month, the feedback given to your employer was compiled and your future employment was up for review. I wonder if in such a system, there wouldn’t be more than just a few people going about their work entirely differently than they currently do.

Some countries enshrine their rights in charters, constitutions and legislation. There’s the right to vote, free speech, carry a gun, basic necessities of life, movement, freedom and the right to assemble. But these rights don’t extend around the globe. Further, these rights don’t extend to all citizens in the lands necessarily who live where those very rights are enshrined.

So, if a person had the right to work, does an employer retain the right to deny one person employment over another? If true, then some would surely find that while they have the right to work, they may still be unemployed even when they want to exercise that right because employers have the right to select who they wish.

I think if a person went about their search for work seeing employment in a company as a privilege, that very thought might bring about a change in how they approached the entire job search process and eventually the employers they came into contact with. Would you agree? Instead of being exasperated and frustrated and showing that resentment, a person might first turn to themselves and say, “I’ve got to work harder if I am to realize the privilege of working for a certain company.”

I suspect there are a number of unemployed people who might not like the idea of having the idea of having their attitude towards work as a privilege challenged. I also suspect a number of employed people who don’t like their jobs or employers will balk at the idea of seeing their job as a privilege. That is for them to decide and their opinions are, well, their opinions and they are equally valid as is my own.

Think about your current job, or the job you are going after as a privilege for a day however and see if it changes your behaviour.






4 thoughts on “Employment: A Right Or A Privilege?

  1. I am inclined to agree that employment is a privilege. The only problem is that in our system people need employment to provide for their basic needs. This is further complicated if you say people don’t have the right not to work. We have massive unemployment. There are hoards of applicants for every opening. If a person can’t get a job and can’t get any kind of financial assistance and has not family to help him or her do we let this person starve.? Until such time as there is another way to keep people from starving, I can understand the view of those who argue employment is a right.


    1. I guess the writer didn’t live at the time of Racial Unrest in this country. To work to earn your daily bread is a good and laudable thing. But a leader of a political party in the 1970’s encouraged a certain race to “Stay Home, Collect Unemployment, have babies and collect Welfare.” I can’t remember his name, would like to know it. I too feel the privilege of work to be best.


  2. It’s complicated when there aren’t a large pool of people available from which to choose. It is then something different from either a right and a privilege.


  3. Yep. The right to work for the profit of the rich and be subjected to any arbitrary standard that has no measurable effect on performance but can be presumed as such with third party constructs. This is why you can be denied work for drugs even if they can’t prove any negative effect on your work performance. It is about controlling culture, not about work performance.


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