The development of social and labour relations by the scholars of the classics of economic theory is examined from genesis to the modern economic system. The purpose of the article is to identify the contradictions in the conceptual framework of «labour relations» and to offer the authors’ version, taking into account the reality of the market economy. In the framework of the tasks, a comparison of views of different economic schools of classical one (Adam Smith), Marxist school (Marx), as well as such scientists as R.J. Ehrenberg, P. Douglas, F. Taylor, etc. The relationship of labor relations and social partnership at the international, national and regional levels is defined. The modern concept of decent work is based on the documents of the International Labour Organization. On the basis of monitoring and sociological research, the priorities and challenges are revealed, the measures in the field of payment and protection of labour are identified at the meso-economic level. The authors put emphasis on the improvement of the wage system, the protection of life and health of the employees, demand and supply of workforce in the labour market in the framework of the social partnership. The study has shown that small businesses belittled the role of collective agreements, this leads to differentiation in wages, the absence of a comprehensive system of safety management and a lack of modernization of jobs with severe conditions. Labour relations can become a factor for the creation of decent working conditions while improving the status and powers of parties of social partnership (government, employers and workers) to collective and contractual regulation, development of the mechanism of economic incentives for employers and in the development of prevention technologies for the protection health of human labour.