108th Session of the International Labour Conference

Report of the Global Commission on the Future Work: Remarks of Luc Cortebeeck

The Director-General submited for discussion in plenary in 2019, the Report of the Global Commission on the Future of Work entitled Work for a brighter future. On this occasion, Luc Cortebeeck delivered his remarks on behalf of the ILO Workers’ Group.

Statement | 12 June 2019
It was a pleasure and a honour for me, together with Philip Jennings and Reema Nanavati, to be member of the Global Commission on the Future of Work.

27 people from different regions, with very different backgrounds. I really enjoyed to make - as one of the ex-officio members - the relationship between the Governing Body and the Commission. We could count on the excellent co-presidency of president Cyril Ramaphosa and Prime Minister Löfven and the support from Director General Guy Ryder and the staff. I liked the richness of the analysis, the brightness of the ideas, the mutual interest in each other's experiences and views, the open discussion. It was an excellent idea and initiative of the Director General, later backed by the Governing Body, to open up the preparation of the Centenary and the discussion on the Future of Work towards other people, people with experience but not belonging to the ILO or the constituents. Added to this we could count on the commitment of the commissioners and all these elements made the report under the title ‘Work for a brighter future’ so strong.

The message is clear. The world goes through challenging times where a majority of the people in the world is left behind. This will worsen if we do not act, sure is that we are not ready for the Future of Work. Therefore the most ambitious social contract ever needs to be reinvigorated if we want to avoid more crises in our societies than we already have. It was remarkable how the Heads of state yesterday and the day before spoke about the creation of the ILO as the most important social contract of history. It was not just a slip of tongue or an exaggerated image to please the ILO-public.

The Commission didn’t drop one or more of the values and objectives of Versailles or Philadelphia. They remain valuable and they need to be reinvigorated, renewed, and strengthened.

The Commissions’ human centered agenda gives us in 3 pillars of action and 10 recommendations some strong points on how to deliver the social contract. One of the most important sentences can be found on page 28, I quote ‘It is not about adjusting people to fit into this new landscape. It is a bolder vision that seeks to steer the transformations under way towards a future of work that affords dignity, security and equal opportunity, expanding human freedoms’

Let me remember towards the audience some of the strong points of the report.
  • Investing in people with a universal entitlement of lifelong learning within their working time, a right to lifelong learning;
  • Guidance of people through transitions;
  • The transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality and ending violence at work;
  • The horizontal and vertical extension of social protection, no one can be left behind. This is in the first place important for the rural workers and the workers of the informal economy, but more and more also for the gig economy;
  • I welcome the remaining role of the employment relationship as centrepiece of the Labour protection. Anyway a labour protection is needed for every worker regardless of their employment status or contractual arrangement;
  • Another point in the report that makes the difference is the Universal Labour Guarantee adding the 3 important issues, adequate living wage, maximum limits on working time and safety and healthy workplaces added to the fundamental workers' rights. I know this is difficult point for our colleagues of the employers’ group but also on this point I heard the world leaders yesterday and the day before, supporting the different issues of the Universal Labour Guarantee.
  • That an international instrument is needed for the digital platforms is another point that was supported.
  • I welcome the idea of a right to digitally disconnect, the regulation for "on call" workers and guaranteed minimum working hours and time sovereignty;
  • The call towards governments to promote workers' and employers' representation;
  • The necessity of social dialogue and collective bargaining and the insufficiency of the individual approach;
  • The recognition of the importance of the labour standard system and the supervisory mechanism;
  • The "human in command" approach: it’s not only a question of adapting to technology, but of managing technology: technology has to be a societal choice;
  • The investments in care, green economy and infrastructure to create work
  • The added indicators beyond the GDP to measure the human centred progress, linked to alternative business incentives to avoid shorttermism. 

In the Commission we had very profound discussions on issues that we wanted to see more outspoken in the report.
  • The challenges for democracy and the danger of populism as mentioned clearly by the heads of state.
  • The analysis we made about the actual business models and their influence on the problems we are confronted with now, on short-termism and buybacks, the shareholder value model, tax evasion and avoidance and the need for reforms, a global financial register, tax systems for the digital economy, the role of the big players, MNE's, the big digital 5, both on tax paying and the way they control and use data. Data and value extracted from digital work is most often used for private gain rather than for societal objectives. The Global Supply Chains and how to convince them to respect workers’ rights, using methods of compulsory due diligence? The concentration of power. On these point too we found support in the speeches yesterday and the day before made by some heads of state.
  • The call towards member states to take responsibility in the human centred agenda will need the support of new standards to regulate the many rights abuses that come with digitalization, to inspire member-states and to guarantee an equal level playing field.
  • The role of Quality Public Services is mentioned but needs to be stressed strongly.
  • The role of cross border collective bargaining needs a stronger support.
Notwithstanding some weak points, the report as a whole is very strong. I experienced how the report was welcomed by workers’ groups, in different member-states, by the civil society too. The report provides the constituents with the steppingstones for the Centenary Declaration.

A lot of ambition will be needed to reinvigorate the social contract that we need for these and future times and what encouraged us was the big support of the world leaders for a strong Centenary Declaration.