What if unemployed people in South Africa had a right – a real right – to a minimum level of regular work on decent terms? In 2005, India passed a law guaranteeing rural households up to 100 days of work per annum, at minimum wage rates. Over 55 million households now participate in the programme. Real policy innovation able to change society in significant ways is rare. India's employment guarantee is an innovation of this magnitude, with implications for social and economic policy, and for the role of the state as employer of last resort where markets fail. In the process, India has given new meaning to the concept of a right to work – opening new policy doors for all of us. This paper analyses the context of structural unemployment in marginal areas in South Africa, briefly describes India's employment guarantee programme, explores the rationale for an employment guarantee in South Africa – and considers lessons from the Community Work Programme on how such a guarantee could work in practise. What if unemployed people in South Africa had a right – a real right – to a minimum level of regular work on decent terms?