Humanity and social justice a must for the future of work – ILO chief

The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently convened a “global dialogue” to discuss the profound changes sweeping the world of work. Baher Kamal reports.

ROME: “The future of work must be inspired by considerations of humanity, of social justice and peace. If it is not, we are going to a dark place, we are going to a dangerous place,” said the head of the leading world body specializing in labour issues.

With a forceful call to make social dialogue between governments and the social partners a key instrument for building a world of work that leaves no one behind, Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), summed up a landmark event on the future of work.

“We now need to transform our thinking into results, into concrete outcomes,” Ryder added at the conclusion of the 6-7 April Global Dialogue: The Future of Work We Want. “We need to address the concerns of that young person wondering if there is a future of work for them.”

The event, which took place at the ILO’s headquarters in Geneva, brought together leading economists, academics and representatives of governments and the social partners (employers’ and workers’ organizations) to discuss the profound changes sweeping the world of work.

More than 700 participants attended, with several hundreds joining and participating via the Internet and social media.

Among the participants was Lord Robert Skidelsky, from the University of Warwick in the UK, who as the keynote speaker at the event said that international solutions are needed to harmonize the process of adaptation to the future of work: “We can’t leave it all to the market. We can’t stop innovation but we can manage it.”

The Geneva meeting also featured a special session on how to shape the future of work for youth, with a particular focus on the transition from school to work, the organization of the world of work and its regulation.

Ryder emphasized the need to promote innovation and development, at the same time as maintaining the Organization’s social objectives.

The Global Dialogue was part of the ILO’s Centenary Initiative to investigate the future of work and better understand the drivers of unprecedented change, including technological innovation, the organization of work and production, globalization, climate change, migration and demography. The initiative seeks to broadly canvass the views of key actors in the world of work on all of these issues, says the ILO.

More than 167 countries have taken part in the ILO initiative so far, with 107 of them participating in national and regional dialogues that have been or are being held all around the world.

Their conclusions will help inform a High Level Global Commission on the Future of Work, to be established by the ILO later this year. The report of the Commission will feed into discussions on a Centenary Declaration at the 2019 International Labour Conference.

Work transformations

Around the world, profound changes in the nature of work are underway, the ILO said, adding that the ongoing transformations in the world of labour are disrupting the connection between work, personal development and community participation.

The future of work gains special relevance now that it is estimated that over 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030 just to keep pace with the growth of the global working age population. That’s around 40 million per year.

Meanwhile, there is a pressing need to improve conditions for the some 780 million women and men who are working but not earning enough to lift themselves and their families out of $2-a-day poverty.

On these major issues, which mainly affect the present and future of the youth and in particular the most vulnerable groups such as women, migrants, rural communities and indigenous peoples, the ILO had, ahead of the meeting, posed the following key questions:

l How will societies manage these changes?

l Will they bring together or pull apart developed, emerging and developing economies?

l Where will the jobs of tomorrow come from and what will they look like?

l What are the challenges and opportunities young people are facing as they make the transition into the world of work?

l What do they see as the path forward to achieve sustainable inclusive growth for future generations?

l What are the new forms of the employment relationship and will and to what extent that relationship continue to be the locus for many of the protections now afforded to workers?

l What initiatives can revitalize existing norms and institutions and/or create new forms of regulation that may help to meet present and future governance challenges?

Around the world, in economies at all stages of development, profound changes in the nature of work are underway, the ILO explained, adding that numerous and diverse drivers account for these: demographic shifts, climate change, technological innovation, shifting contours of poverty and prosperity, growing inequality, economic stagnation and the changing character of production and employment.

“We are facing the twin challenge of repairing the damage caused by the global economic and social crisis and creating quality jobs for the tens of millions of new labour market entrants every year,” said Ryder ahead of the meeting.

Economic growth continues to disappoint and underperform in terms of both its level and the degree of inclusion, he explained, adding, “This paints a worrisome picture for the global economy and its ability to generate enough jobs. Let alone quality jobs.”

According to the ILO chief, persistent high levels of vulnerable forms of employment combined with clear lack of progress in job quality – even in countries where aggregate figures are improving – are “alarming.”

In fact, the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2017 report shows that vulnerable forms of employment – i.e., contributing family workers and own-account workers – are expected to stay above 42% of total employment, accounting for 1.4 billion people worldwide in 2017.

Almost one in two workers in emerging countries are in vulnerable forms of employment, rising to more than four in five workers in developing countries, said Steven Tobin, ILO Senior Economist and lead author of the report.

As a result, the number of workers in vulnerable employment is projected to grow by 11 million per year, with Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa being the most affected.

Meanwhile, the global unemployment rate is expected to rise modestly from 5.7% to 5.8% in 2017, representing an increase of 3.4 million in the number of jobless people, according to the ILO.

The number of unemployed persons globally in 2017 is forecast to stand at just over 201 million – with an additional rise of 2.7 million expected in 2018 – as the pace of labour force growth outstrips job creation. (IPS)                                       

Third World Economics, Issue No. 637, 16-31 March 2017, pp13-14