ILO report calls to reinvigorate the social contract

In 2019, the International Labour Organisation celebrates 100 years of its existence and as a kick-off to this anniversary, the ILO Global Commission of the Future of Work published its final report on 22 January. The “Work for a Brighter Future” report lays out multiple steps that are necessary to achieve “decent and sustainable work opportunities for all” taking into consideration the rapidly changing realities in the area of work.

Managing technological change
Technological advances such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will have a twofold impact on the labour market: Firstly, they will create certain jobs that facilitate this technological transition. And secondly, these changes will make other jobs redundant during the adjustment period. It will be the responsibility of political decision-makers to ensure that those falling victim of technological advancement are supported to acquire new skill sets that will prove beneficial for the jobs of tomorrow. According to the ILO report, millions of new jobs will for example be created in the green economy as we adopt to sustainable practices and clean technologies. This fluctuation of a changing world of work must be facilitated with far-sighted policy initiatives to make sure that we keep up with the speed of technological change.

Delivering the social contract with a human-centred agenda
At the core of the ILO report stands the call for delivering a social contract that increases investments in people’s capabilities, institutions of work as well as decent and sustainable work. The human-centred approach entails more than the notion of “human capital”. Our focus must be on placing people and the work they do at centre of economic and social policy and business practices. It is important to embrace this concept that looks at the dimension of development and progress in living standards, including rights and an enabling environment that enhance people’s opportunities and well-being.

Universal Labour Guarantee
The report also puts forward a Universal Labour Guarantee: “All workers, regardless of their contractual arrangement or employment status, should enjoy fundamental workers’ rights, and adequate living wage, maximum limits on working hours, and protection of safety and health at work.” In addition, collective agreements and laws should raise this protection floor depending on local and national requirements. Furthermore, the collective representation of workers and employers remains a vital instrument and must be endorsed as a public good. Social dialogue will be substantial in ensuring that all relevant voices are heard when trying to manage the challenges of technological change.

Policy debate in Brussels and role of the EU
In the premises of the Representation of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia to the EU, the Development and Peace Foundation invited Thorben Albrecht, Member of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work, to present the findings and its implications of the report in an EU context. Among the panellists were Dr Hildegard Hageman from the German Comission Justitia et Pax as well as Ruth Paserman, Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Marianne Thyssen.

All panellists agreed on the importance of life-long learning to ensure that the skills of workers and employees develop hand-in-hand with competences required on the labour market. Moreover, the discussion highlighted the fact that social dialogue and trade unions must be truly inclusive reaching out to workers employed in the informal economy. The “ILO Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers” shows that such commitment is possible and offers a best practice example of how progress is to be made.

On larger international level, the EU must make sure that we lead by a positive example. This concretely means to positively shape the global labour regime with our partners globally and to take responsibilities in the global supply chains of goods and political dialogues. Pushing the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation to make decent work a priority must be on top of our to-do list in this regard. Moreover, there lie several possibilities in advancing decent work in the framework of develop cooperation. This influence is only credible, however, when the EU practices what it preaches. 

SOLIDAR supports the ILO’s report to the future of work: The human-centred approach is the only way to go forward which translates into the prioritisation of the human and her or his well-being. Technology must be harnessed and managed for decent work and international governance system must ensure that minimum rights and protection are respected. Investments are particularly fundamental in three key sectors: the social and health sector, the green economy and the rural economy. Only when we understand that decent working and living conditions must be the objectives of today’s society and not unlimited growth then we are to achieve a transformative, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable agenda. 

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