Safety at work and job security. An IAS/ILO partnership to commemorate the centenary of the ILO in 2019

As part of the run-up to the Centenary of the ILO, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Nantes, France and the ILO have joined efforts to organize a series of roundtables centered on the theme of “The Humanization of Labour since 1919”.

Every year the Nantes Institute for Advanced Study welcomes some thirty fellows from all over the world, invited according to extremely selective criteria. These small and by nature temporary scientific communities allow their members the freedom to pursue their chosen research project, whilst at the same time immersing them in an unfamiliar environment. This enables them to challenge intellectual routines, develop innovative approaches and build up lasting new international scientific networks, of a strongly interdisciplinary character. The distinctive feature of Nantes IAS is its emphasis on maintaining a “north/south” balance, and this governs the composition of each annual promotion, providing favorable conditions for an exchange of learning which is indispensable for a thorough understanding of globalization-related questions.

The roundtables on “The Humanization of Labour since 1919” approach the topic both from an historical and a comparative perspective. The historical point of view consists in retracing the great transformations which have affected labour over the last hundred years, whilst the comparative point of view focuses on examining the diversity of situations and perceptions, according to various cultures and civilizations.

The 2010 partnership agreement envisaged four roundtables which would each bring together a select group of scholars representing very different cultures and approaches, with the aim of furthering and improving the study of the humanization of labour since 1919. The first roundtable exploring “The Meaning of Work” took place in Nantes on 30–31 March 2011. The second roundtable will take place in Berlin on 8–10 November 2012, in collaboration with the IGK Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History (Re : work) of the Humboldt University on the theme “Safety at Work and Job Security”.

Safety at work and job security was initially considered in the founding texts of the International Labour Organization solely from the angle of physical safety, which was then subsequently extended to progressively include economic security. These two sides to security have since become disassociated as a result of the ultraliberal movement. Economic security for workers has been condemned as being a factor of rigidity, while new management techniques have encouraged businesses to play on workers’ resilience - namely their capacity to cope with insecurity - to improve productivity. The development of economic and psychological insecurity has not been accompanied by an explicit undermining of the objective of physical safety. Rather, the achieving of this objective has been compromised by the increasing loss of security (which entails a greater risk of occupational accidents and work-related diseases), as well as new methods of organization at work (with the emergence of a hitherto unknown risk in the industrialized world, that of damage to mental health). Insecurity in the workplace has wider implications in the form of new risks for business and for the general public, in that it has a knock-on effect on the quality of the goods or services provided. The impact of free trade on economic security affects not only employees but a host of other independent workers, notably agricultural labourers, craftsmen and small businesses who are all confronted by the volatility of rates and competition from low-cost imported goods, as is the case in Africa, for example.

These roundtables approach the main aspects of the question of security at work from a transnational and global perspective. The question will be examined both from a contemporary point of view and in its historical dimension, from 1919 to the present day. Its history is not exclusively (Western) European, and therefore discourse and practices developed in what are referred to as ‘southern’ countries (notably Latin America) will be largely focused on.

The 2012 IAS roundtable brings together a small number of specialists in a closed discussion group. It will be followed by a publication and interviews with the participants will be published on the Internet. The latter will shortly be available on the respective web sites of Nantes IAS, the Re: work Center, and the ILO Century Project.

If you wish to participate, please check if places are available with Ms Felicitas Hentschke.