Seventh World Government Summit

Work for a Brighter Future

In a speech to the seventh World Government Summit, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder stressed the need for people to design the future of work they want. He identified three areas for investment: people and their capabilities; institutions; and jobs of the future, and said that the private sector’s productive capacities, resources and potential needed to be harnessed for the future of work agenda.

Statement | Dubai, United Arab Emirates | 11 February 2019
Your Highness, ministers, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me begin my remarks by expressing my thanks for the opportunity to address this remarkable World Government Summit and my gratitude to the Government and to the people of the United Arab Emirates for their organization and for their warm hospitality.

Yesterday in his opening address to the summit, Professor Klaus Schwab spoke about what we need to do to make a success of “Globalization 4.0.” He argued that we needed to have a change of direction, to no longer tolerate growing inequalities with too many left behind. He argued as well for more social justice.

As a Director General of an Organization whose 100-year-old mandate promotes social justice as the surest guarantee of lasting peace in the world, you would expect I would agree strongly with these sentiments which I believe must guide us when it comes to shaping the future of work in particular.

But let me insert a word of caution in our discussions. Today we tend to speak of “Globalization 4.0” as if it were a natural and inevitable consequence of the 4th industrial revolution, or “technology 4.0,” as of globalization and technology advance in automatic lockstep, and as if technology would decide everything - or just about.

And I think that this is probably a mistake. The historical record does not suggest that we have lived through globalizations one, two and three as a direct result of the first three industrial revolutions. And so there is no real reason to believe that this will be the case in the future.

And this matters. This matters because if we fall into the trap of what might be termed “technological determinism,” we might miss the crucial point. And the crucial point is that the future of work can and must be the outcome of our own actions, of human interventions. If we don’t realize this, we might not only fail to come up with the right answers to the challenges before us, we might not even ask the right questions.

On the occasion of its Centenary, the International Labour Organization is undertaking its Future of Work Initiative by trying to put these key questions: What is the future of work that we want, and to provide some of the answers of how we make a reality of it.

In this context, ladies and gentlemen, the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work, which was co-chaired by President Ramaphosa of South Africa and Prime Minister Löfven of Sweden, last month published its report – and I believe it is a valuable contribution to this important debate.

At a time of high levels of uncertainty and insecurity about the future in general, fuelled by the pace and impact of changes which are more keenly felt than they are understood, fuelled also by growing sentiments of injustice in the face of inequalities and exclusion, and – let’s face it – widespread disillusionment about the real capacity of all of our policy makers to provide credible responses, it appears essential to establish –consciously - a clear political project for the future of work.

Now some of the good news is that the international community is already tackling that very task: we already have the United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and that explicitly places inclusive growth, full employment, and decent work for all at the centre of the future that we want.

And the ILO’s Global Commission has given substance to this concept by setting out what it terms a human-centred Agenda for growth and development, one which places people and the work that they do at the centre of economic and social policy making. Meaningful work is at the heart of the human life experience of each and every one of us. And if we think of the material and spiritual well-being which comes from access to decent work, and place that against the deprivation and demoralization which result from its absence, and if we agree that human happiness and well-being is and must be the paramount goal of our policies, then surely this recalibration of policy settings for “Globalization 4.0” is surely compelling.

Now I’m conscious that it can be objected that all of this sounds rather philosophical, that it sounds rather vague. But we meet, after all, in a country which has a Minister of Happiness and Well-Being, and observing more broadly the social dynamics of our world today, I am encouraged in my belief that this is an approach which actually addresses head-on the hard and the pressing policy imperatives of our moment.

So what concretely would this human-centred agenda for work involved. In its essentials, it comprises three areas of investment. The first investment must be in people and in people’s capabilities. So here we put particular emphasis on enabling people to navigate the major transitions ahead, the transition to a digitalized world of work, the transition to a carbon-neutral set of production systems, and transition to a longer working life which we can all imagine before us, and which will mean that every individual will have to adapt throughout that professional career.

And so we believe that the right to education, long-established, long-recognized, now requires to be expanded and expressed in an entitlement to life-long learning, and to put in place delivery systems to make the possibility of skilling, up-skilling and re-skilling a consistent part of working life for us all.

And then we need to invest much more into our social protection systems. People require social protection from childhood to old age not simply as a matter of right, but because providing such protection is an important lubricant of change, it enables people to embrace rather than to resist change. It is an important challenge before us.

And the final investment in people must address the question of gender and gender equity. The fact of the matter is that despite many decades of our efforts, women still suffer disadvantages in terms of pay, and participation of work, and the time has come for a truly transformative agenda for gender equality.

The second area of investment is in what we terms the institutions of work. I think we’ve all come together, we all recognize the principle that labour is not a commodity, not an item of commerce to be traded like any other, because labour means human beings who are endowed with rights, with views and entitlements.

Because of this fact that labour is not a commodity, for many decades we have put in place in our labour markets laws, rules, procedures, and representation that prevent labour from being mistreated in the labour markets. But as the nature of labour is transformed by technology in particular but by other things as well, and as new and diverse forms of work appear,
we need new institutions to perform this task effectively.

Realities on the ground inevitably get ahead of our capacity to react, but we must catch up. And for these reasons, our global commission proposes a universal labour guarantee applicable to all, regardless of their employment or contractual status. This would protect people’s fundamental rights at work, it would subscribe an adequate living wage for all, set maximum working hours, and make safety and health at work a human right, when we know that every year, 2.7 million people lose their lives in the world because of the work that they do.

These are not new ambitions, they are old ambitions, but the new push for their realization is very much on the agenda today. Institutional investment is also called for to help people better balance professional and private life, and new technologies operate extraordinary new options for this, and they need to be harnessed to expand the individual’s choice, crystalized in our report in the context of time sovereignty. We believe as well that special attention needs to be given to the emerging platform of gig economy. Now opinion remains divided as to whether this new economy is simply a niche, or if it’s something that’s going to be a precursor of a generalized form of working in the future.

Whatever view one takes, the inadequacies of our existing arrangements are already painfully manifest.

And the third and the final area of investment that we believe we must make is in the jobs of the future.

Your Highness we live at a time when fears of chronic job scarcity are very much present in our societies. We need to identify and we need to invest in those productive sectors which offer the promise of major employment opportunities in the future. This has obvious strategic significance. And whilst every country will face different circumstances, there are clearly some area which have transformative significance, and I will simply list them: they are the green economy – the jobs that will come from the transition to an environmentally sustainable future; they are the care economy – so important now that many of our societies are ageing and others require us to focus more on the care of our young people; they are the rural economy, where it’s too easily forgotten that a very large proportion of the world’s population is employed; and we need also to invest in quality physical and digital infrastructure.

Your Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the “what” our Commission recommends for action, action to move us to the future of work that we as human beings want, not the future that is going to be imposed upon us. But of course this vision begs the question of “how” it can be done, and we offer three answers in that regard.

Firstly, in line with the widely recognized need for and advantages of multi-stakeholder involvement in all areas of policy development, we are very conscious that strengthening the capacity of governments to interact with employers, the private sector, and with working people, in the process of finding balanced and consensual solutions to world of work challenges, can open the way to a re-invigoration of the “social contract” – this tacit agreement between people and institutions about what is fair, what is legitimate, what they want from the future of their lives and their countries. We think that new strength to these social contracts […] in many circumstances, appear to be under pressure.

Secondly, our Global Commission recommends that arrangements for stronger international policy coherence in the many areas of relevance to work be pursued. This of course is very much in line with the thinking of the UN 2030 Agenda, which is being operationalized in the process of UN reform. But we recommend that this search for greater policy coherence internationally be extended particularly to deepening international cooperation in the domains of work, of trade and of finance which, taken at this international level, implies the involvement and deeper cooperation of the International Labour Organization with the World Trade Organization and with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - the Bretton Woods Institutions.

And this brings me, thirdly, lastly, and literally, to the bottom line: the question of financing. Undoubtedly, this is an ambitious agenda, and one that will require the input not only of political will but of resources as well. Part of the answer of where these resources will come from, of course, is the absolute need to harness the productive capacities, the resources, and the potential of the private sector. If that doesn’t happen, little else will. And by aligning business incentives and behaviour to the delivery of this agenda, we can make critically important contributions to its resourcing. But additionally – and we have to recognize this - fiscal policies, nationally and internationally, will also need to be re-examined in the light of the investment needs identified. But this too should be seen in the light of the very heavy fiscal burden that will inevitably result from inaction and a failure to involve everybody productively in the future of work that we all want, one which puts humans in command of technology, and allows each one the dignity that goes with decent work.

Let me close by recognizing, as the head of an organization which brings together no fewer than 187 member states – not only their governments but their employers and workers – that when we speak of the future of work, we might perhaps properly speak of “futures” of work in the plural. Why? Because whilst we share many objectives, many values, we also are cognisant that conditions prevailing in our member states vary widely. Possibilities are different, ambitions are different, and we need to conscious of this diversity of situation. Here in Dubai, here in the Emirates, we have the example of a country which has set a course for the future, where a vision of the future that people want is set out and being pursued, and this is something that we wish to congratulate the Emirates upon. We can learn from that example, we can draw from that example, and we hope, in return, that international community and the ILO can offer ideas and perspectives for the future as well.

So in conclusion, in designing the future of work that we want, which is after all the future of our societies as well, we have everything to gain from working together in our international family.

Your Highness, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you.