EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Right to work


The right to work at EU level is guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 15) which stipulates: ‘1. Everyone has the right to engage in work and to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation; 2. Every citizen of the Union has the freedom to seek employment, to work, to exercise the right of establishment and to provide services in any Member State.’


Article 15(1) applies to ‘everyone’ – employees and self-employed persons – regardless of the nature of their employment relationship. It is a fundamental human right. The formula of ‘the right to engage in work’ appears to be a compromise between a ‘freedom to enter into work’, or a wider ‘right to work’.

As a constitutional right recognised in some Member States, the right to work creates legal obligations on the state to develop an active employment policy, to guarantee the freedom of work and to organise a free functioning labour market. A narrow view of the EU Charter’s ‘right to engage in work’ would limit it to giving access to the labour market. A broader view of the right extends to the political commitment of the state to promote integration in employment and stability at work. For example, it could act as a constitutional anchor for the EU’s commitment to a high level of employment and its employment policy.

Article 15(2) of the EU Charter reflects the freedom of movement established by the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). It applies to EU citizens and not only to workers, thus going beyond Article 45 TFEU. The reference to the EU Charter in the revised Treaty of the European Union might eventually contribute to challenging the remaining limits to freedom of movement.

See also: access to employment; employability; employment rate; European Employment Strategy; fundamental rights; flexicurity; labour force participation; social protection; social security.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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