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Economic and social rights

Economic and social rights

Economic and social rights

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To enjoy fair and reasonable conditions of employment, to have access to education, to enjoy the best possible health, to have a decent standard of living and to have access to social security programs when in need, these are some of the recognized economic and social rights.

These rights are guaranteed for all by international covenants or treaties and by national and regional legislation.

 
     

Origin

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR This link will redirect you to an external Website in a new window.) proclaimed that human rights and fundamental freedoms apply to all members of the human family.

A declaration does not however have the same status as a law or a treaty. In 1966, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted two international covenants in order that States should be bound by the rights it contained:

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR This link will redirect you to an external Website in a new window.) protects, for example, the right to life, freedom of expression, assembly and association, and prohibits torture. 
  •  The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR This link will redirect you to an external Website in a new window.) guarantees, for example, the right to free education, to health, to work and to social security.

Economic and Social Rights in Québec

Protected and guaranteed by several laws

Through its commitment to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR This link will redirect you to an external Website in a new window.) the Québec Government undertook to give effect to those rights.

Québec has signed other international instruments which also reinforce that commitment such as:

Moreover, Québec has included economic and social rights in its fundamental law:


Did you know?

Québec is the only province – and the only North-American jurisdiction – to have included economic and social rights in a fundamental law, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. It takes precedence over all other laws.

In practice

Through these commitments, Québec has the responsibility to uphold, protect, promote and implement social and economic rights. It must, for example, adopt laws or put in place laws or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized in the present Covenant.

  •   The Government must ensure that its policies or those of businesses or institution on its territory are not discriminatory and foster the social, economic and cultural participation of all.
  •    The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse can intervene when those rights are not respected.
  •   The courts can issue rulings to protect economic and social rights based on the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and other legislation.
     

Robert receives the basic social assistance payment for an adult living alone which is $610 monthly.

In Québec, the average monthly rent for a bachelor apartment is $531 and $699 for a two-bedroom apartment, which means that Robert must spend most of his income on housing.

The financial measures provided in the law are thus unlikely to provide him with an adequate standard of living and could jeopardize, his right to safety, life and physical integrity, and also his right to the safeguard of his dignity.

Bianca works as a live-in caregiver for a Montréal family.

Because of her immigration status she is obligated to live in her employer’s home. The employer takes advantage of her presence in the house to ask her to work overtime without compensating her for the extra hours she works.

This situation compromises her right to fair and reasonable employment conditions but could also infringe on her right to safety, life, physical integrity, her right to safeguard her dignity, her right to respect for her private life and her right to equality.

Marthe is a 79-year old childless widow. She is vulnerable as she is deeply isolated and has problems reading.

She decides to sell her house as she has lost some of her autonomy in the last few months. Her neighbour, whom she does not know well, offers to help her and makes her sign papers so he can pocket part of the proceeds of the sale of her house.

This situation compromises Marthe’s rights as an elderly person who is entitled to protection against all forms of exploitation. It also compromises her right to the safeguard of her dignity and her right to freely dispose of her goods also protected by the Charter.

For the full recognition of
economic and social rights

Although they are included in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, economic and social rights do not have the same status as the political and judicial fundamental rights (sections 1 to 38) that take explicit precedence over all other Québec laws.

The implementation and scope of economic and social rights are limited. Yet, economic and social rights have the same importance as all other human rights and freedoms.

Why? Because respect for these rights is linked to other rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Charter, including the right to equality and the right to safeguard one’s dignity.

This is the reason why the Commission recommends that Québec reinforce these rights by:

  • Giving economic and social rights the same status as other rights in the Charter establishing their explicit precedence over all other laws;
  • Making the full realization of these rights a priority;
  • Explicitly stating a number of other economic and social rights in the Charter, such as:
    • The right to housing
    • The right to health
    • The right to work

Find out more :
Après 25 ans - La Charte québécoise des droits et libertés. Volume 1 - Bilan et recommandations
(In French only, PDF, 2 Mo)

     
 

Women, racialized groups, recent immigrants, migrant workers, Aboriginals and the homeless, all members of these groups who are among the hardest hit by poverty and social exclusion, cannot achieve real equality if economic and social rights are not fully implemented.

 

International commitments of the Québec State

By ratifying the ICESCR This link will redirect you to an external Website in a new window
., Québec made several promises, among others, to:

  •   Prohibit discrimination (direct, indirect or systemic) in the exercise of the rights included in the Covenant. Rights must be exercised without discrimination “based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or any other status.”
  •   Ensure progressively the full realization of the recognized rights. This includes the obligation to adopt immediate and concrete actions to implement the rights enunciated in the Covenant. The State must then act “by every appropriate means” (through laws, policies, social programs, etc.) and “to the maximum extent of available resources” in order that all can exercise their economic and social rights.
  •   To refrain from adopting “regressive measures”, that is, to avoid putting in place, laws, regulations or programs, etc. that would “directly or indirectly be a step back” relative to the recognized rights in the Covenant. To do so would require the most careful consideration of all rights ensured and be fully justified based on the available resources.
     
 

English language translations are provided when available.

 
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Economic and social rights in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

  • The right of children to the protection, security and attention that their parents or the persons acting on their stead are able to provide
    [section 39].
  • The right to free public education
    [section 40].
  • The right, in public educational institutions, to receive religious or moral education
    [section 41].
  • The right to choose approved private educational institutions
    [section 42].
  • The right of people belonging to ethnic minorities to maintain and develop their cultural interests with the other members of their group
    [section 43].
  • The right to information
    [section 44].
  • The right of every person in need to sufficient financial and social assistance to provide an acceptable standard of living
    [section 45].
  • The right to fair and reasonable conditions of employment with proper regard for the person's health, safety and well-being
    [section 46].
  • The equality of spouses within a marriage and their equal responsibility in the moral guidance and material support of the family and the education of their common offspring
    [section 47].
  • The right of elderly and disabled people to security and to the protection of their families or the people acting in their stead, and the right to protection from all forms of exploitation
    [section 48].