Welcome Remarks by ILO Employment Policy Director Sangheon Lee during the presentation of the working paper on Rethinking Labour: Ethical Perspective on the Future of Work

Statement | 07 November 2018
Thank you for your kind invitation to this launch event, especially to the Caritas in Veritate Foundation and his Excellency Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic.

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, very much hoped to join us today, but much to his regret, his prior commitments during the Governing Body made it impossible. He asked me to convey his warmest regards to you all, and to congratulate you on the excellent contributions made to the working paper. He also added that this working paper “will be a significant contribution to the current debates on the world of work”.

Having read the collection of thought-provoking papers and recent Church related texts, I was reminded that throughout history, society has struggled to find ways of making material (or economic) progress serve social progress. Today, as we know, we also face the additional challenge of linking “environmental sustainability” and social progress.

And at the heart of this on-going struggle, people have asked themselves a fundamental question: what is the meaning of work? Thus, we have seen recurrent debates about “dehumanization” (if not “alienation”) of work, which were often followed by intense political and social efforts to give a “human face” to work. I am not an expert in this field, but I feel that social progress within the context of human history has been made only through our decisive and coordinated policy actions. As our ILO colleague Anna Biondi said in her paper, our progress can be made “only through shared responsibility and commitment”. Of course, such progress has not necessarily been linear, with some retreats as we see in today’s world, but our progress has certainly been steady and firm.

We have now returned to this historic task. There is much talk about the impact of artificial intelligence, robots, new technologies and digitalization as well as complex economic situations, but at the end of the day, it is matter of our choices and actions. History tells us clearly that such actions will be guided by our perspective on work, more specifically an ethical perspective on work.

I believe that the Catholic Church has an important role to play here, as it has done throughout such critical historical eras as the industrial revolution in the 19th century and the turbulent periods at the early 20th century when the ILO was created. An important first step in this regard is to recognize that work is more than just “making money”. As Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher reminded us in his paper, Pope Francis said that it is “also for the cultural and moral development of persons, family, society and the entire human race.” For this reason, the question of technology and work should not be reduced to cost-saving. Technological advancements raise a range of new ethical issues, and we have to ensure that we avoid a common mistake – that is, putting economic efficiency over human dignity.

Although I am not a devoted Catholic, I am a great fan of Pope Francis. I have always been inspired by his words, but my favourites are his improvised responses to the questions raised by ordinary people. Often he puts aside the prepared text, of course with a bit of smile, and shares his reflective thoughts with us. Last year when he visited a factory in Genoa, he was asked about the fourth industrial revolution, or “Industry 4.0”. He offered very direct responses that pointed to the whole question of the “social pact” around work. He even delved into a specific point, stating that “it must be clear that the real goal is not just ‘income for all’ but rather, ‘work for all’”, which might have some important implications for the current debates on a universal basic income. I am sure he didn’t mean it that way, but his statement is certainly a source of inspiration and also different interpretation!

At his visit to another factory in Terni, Pope Francis called for “fighting for a better future of work”. Here he highlighted the importance of “solidarity”. He said, “this word now risks being removed from the dictionary. Solidarity – it seems like a dirty word! No! Solidarity is important, but this system [current economic system] is not very fond of it, it prefers to exclude it. Such human solidarity should ensure that everyone have the possibility to carry out a dignified form of work. Work is a good for everyone and needs to be available for everyone. Periods of grave hardship and unemployment need to be addressed with the tools of creativity and solidarity.” The vocabulary used by Pope Francis is very clear. He speaks of all of us having a role to play in shaping and reaching an inclusive economy that is fairer, more human, more social and integral.

This powerful statement is actually echoed throughout the working paper, and I strongly believe that this statement will be a critical premise for global debates on the future of work, the Global Commission on the Future of Work, and will guide the discussion of the ILO’s centenary conference. On that, the contribution of the working paper is important and significant.

I want to conclude by thanking again all authors of the working paper, and our friend Pierre Martinot for his inspiration and commitments to this project.

Thank you.