A vision for the future of work

ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, spoke at Cornell University's Worker Institute to address challenges facing the organization and the future world of work.

News | 01 October 2013
The long relationship between Cornell University’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations (ILR) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas continued at an event billed as “A Conversation with Guy Ryder”.

By invitation from Dr. Harry Katz, Dean of Cornell’s ILR, the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, spoke at their Workers’ Institute before an audience of faculty members, students, and labour rights and international law professionals.

In his opening remarks, Ryder drew attention to a number of recent news headlines – climate change, migration, the Syrian crisis, building collapses – most of which raised issues of international policy coordination that concerned the government leaders attending the UN’s General Assembly in which he had also participated. He said that the gravity of these problems most of which connected to issues around employment, along with ensuring a central role for decent work in the post-2015 development agenda, signified the need for the international community to take collective action. Furthermore governments needed the support and engagement of from unions and employers’ organizations.

Mr. Ryder spoke about the reform process of the ILO he started in 2012 to ensure that the Organization worked better and upgraded its technical and analytical capacities. “We need to be the point of excellence for research and information about the world of work and make the ILO more influential in policy making,” he said.

The Director-General identified the numerous challenges, including the 200 million people who are out of work globally and the unfortunate reality that unemployment is on the rise, particularly among youth. He spoke of the complexities facing the working poor, including abusive working conditions and insecurity. “Having a job doesn’t mean you can work yourself out of poverty,” he cautioned. In reference to inequality in the United States, he said that current levels of inequalities, precarious employment and social instability seemed to be akin to the U.S. economy of 1928. Some wondered aloud if the economic disaster of 1929 might be repeated.

©ILO Photo/K. Cassidy
Ryder pointed out some good news – that governments and policy makers have been giving greater attention to issues of unemployment, and more importantly, to inequality. He said that one of the central themes of this year’s G20 summit in St. Petersburg was tackling the global economic crisis through jobs and growth. With concepts of collective bargaining and minimum wages making a comeback in policy discussions, there is greater recognition that joblessness and inequality are problems which demand better and bolder solutions.

Outlining eight areas of critical importance (ACI), Mr. Ryder showed how his vision would be applied to the operation of the ILO in realizing decent and productive work for men and women. These ACIs cover the promotion of job rich growth, advancing small and medium size enterprises, creating jobs and skills for youth, improving labour inspection systems and administration, eliminating unacceptable forms of work including child labour, furthering rural economic development, formalizing informal employment for national economic growth and establishing social protection floors for all. Mr. Ryder emphasized that poverty elimination initiatives must have decent work and social protection at their core.

He also reaffirmed his commitment to implement the ILO’s “Seven Centenary Initiatives” which cover governance, standards, enterprises, green jobs, poverty, women and the future of work. Mr. Ryder explained that the “Green Jobs Initiative” is working towards environmental sustainability and stemming environmental degradation caused by economic activities – one of the major challenges of the 21st century.

The “Women at Work Initiative” examines the disadvantages women face in the workplace, including the gender pay gap and addressing violence against women in both formal and informal workplace settings.

As Ryder recalled this year’s devastating Rana Factory collapse in Bangladesh, he explained that the ILO’s “Enterprises Initiative,” designed to influence global supply chains, is working to build the capacity of employers and workers.

As the ILO approaches its centenary, Ryder called for a more forward-looking examination of the place of work in our societies through the “Future of Work Initiative” which addresses the challenge of creating sustainable jobs for the 470 million new entrants to the global labour market between 2015 and 2030.

Mr. Ryder answered a number of questions from the audience in New York and those participating through teleconference in Ithaca. In response to a question on the right to strike, he stated that this right is not expressly mentioned in any of the ILO’s conventions. However, he explained that the Committee of Experts on the Application of Standards and Recommendations – a body of 20 independent, eminent jurists from around the world – has interpreted the right to strike to exist through practice and jurisprudence as being an essential element of freedom of association.

With respect to informal work, Ryder said that the 2014 International Labour Conference would hold a tripartite discussion on the formalization of informal work. While ILO’s Convention 189 concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers had made important progress on this issue, he emphasized that much more needs to be done to safeguard and formalize informal work.

On the environmental front, Ryder observed that the false choice between jobs and the environment had been resolved, and envisioned a “just transition” to a low-carbon, sustainable future.

On the questions of immigration and migration, Ryder stressed that the international community must do a better job in addressing increased levels of violence, racism and social exclusion directed toward migrants as a consequence of the economic crisis, particularly in Europe. The international community needs to “get real” about migration governance, said Ryder.

Ryder turned back to the challenge of global unemployment for people under the age of 25 – speaking about the skills mismatch in the labour market and the need for education and training to help people develop the skills required for a 21th Century workforce. To help younger workers get their foot in the door of the labour market, Ryder gave the example of Germany and Austria – countries which have rehabilitated and benefited from the practice of apprenticeship.

In closing, the Director-General emphasized the importance of coordinated tripartite action to address the world’s current economic challenges and to provide decent employment opportunities and social protection for all.

See also:  Head of ILO outlines global work challenges and policymaking efforts (Cornell University, The Worker Institute)