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Activation Policies for the Unemployed, the Right to Work and the Duty to Work


Elise Dermine and Daniel Dumont

Since the 1990s and the 2000s, Western social protection systems have experienced a turn towards activation. This turn consists of the multiplication of measures aimed at bringing those who are unemployed closer to participation in the labour market. These measures often induce a strengthening of the conditions that must be met in order to receive social benefits.
It is in this well known context that the authors gathered in this book decided to take a closer look at the relationship between activation policies for the unemployed and the right and the duty to work. If activation measures are likely to increase transitions towards the labour market, we can also make the assumption that they may, particularly when they are marked with the seal of coercion, hinder or dramatically reduce the right to freely chosen work. In such circumstances, the realisation of the «right to work», which is often stated to be the aim of those who promote activation, tends in practice to be reduced to an increasing pressure being exerted on the unemployed. In this case, isn’t it actually the duty to work that is particularly reinforced?
After an historical and philosophical perspective on the issue, this assumption is confronted with the developments observed in the United States and in France, and then with the guidelines laid down in international human rights instruments. What follows is a discussion of two alternatives to the dominant activation model: the basic income guarantee and the employment guarantee.
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Jean-Michel Bonvin is professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts – Western Switzerland (HES-SO). His main fields of expertise include social and employment policies and organisational innovation in public sector management. He is currently a member of the management committee of the SOCIETY project funded by the European Union’s 7th framework programme.

Olivier De Schutter is professor of human rights law at the Université Catholique de Louvain and at Sciences Po Paris. A specialist in economic and social rights and globalisation, he was between 2008 and 2014 the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, and he will join the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2015.

Elise Dermine is research fellow of the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research, within the Université Catholique de Louvain. She is completing a doctorate on activation policies for the unemployed and international human rights law. Previously, she has been a lawyer and a teaching assistant in social security law.

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