Future of work

Address uncertainty and fear of the future of work

Speaking at the launch in South Africa of the Global Commission report on the Future of Work, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder set the stage for the next steps in its implementation.

Statement | Durban, South Africa | 01 March 2019
Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa,
Excellency Geinbho, President of the Republic of Namibia,
Chairperson of the SADC,
Minister of Labour of South Africa and Vice President of the International Labour Conference Ms Mildred Oliphant,
All Ministers in attendance,
Mr Mthunzi Mdwaba the Employer Vice Chair of the ILO Governing Body, Representatives of Workers and Employers,
My colleague Ms Cynthia Samuel Olonjuwon, Regional Director of the ILO in Africa,
Executive Director of Arlac Mr Patrick Nalere, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As has been already recalled by distinguished speakers before me, we need to a moment of anniversaries and centenaries. Amongst them the happy coincidence of the Centenary of the International Labour Organization and the Centenary of President Mandela. I think that that’s a happy coincidence, is in itself both inspiration, called us for to review and to renew our commitment to the course of social justice, which is a founding mandate of the International Labour Organization. It seems to me that this inspiration and this imperative, is all more powerful, because as President Ramaphosa has reminded us the World of Work is living through a, I think probably a of unprecedented period of transformative change, and that change brings with it of course opportunity, but also feelings of uncertainty and even fear. We need to address all of these factors. Change is coming not only from technology, although that is what is mostly talked about. It comes from demographic changes, ageing populations in some parts of the world, youthful populations growing in others. It comes from the actions that is I, must be taken from climate change, if we consider climate change is provoked by human activity, and we have to remember most of that is caused by work or related to work, and we have change also generated by the increasing uncertain forward march of globalization.

The ILO in this circumstances has felt it proper, to dedicate our Centenary to a major reflection on the Future of Work (FoW), and what that meant, for the mandate and activities of our organization and for our cooperation with our Member States. So Im absolutely delighted to have been invited here today, to mark the launch of what stands at the center of the ILO’s initiative on the Future of Work and that is the report of our Global Commission on the Future of Work.

Being in South Africa in particular, allows me to express profound gratitude to President Ramaphosa, the co-chair of the Global commission along with the Prime Minister of Sweden for His extraordinary leadership.

This was a group of people with strong views, and I think those strong views, were of strong leadership, so that we could get to and agreement to the report that we now present to you.

Being in SA, as well, gives me the opportunity to recall the remarkable shared history of the ILO and SA. It has been an eventful history. To my knowledge, SA is the only member state of the ILO that at one point was required to leave the organisation. It happened a while ago, now. But of course, the return of your country, with democracy, to our organisation – was one of the great moments to be remembered with pleasure and excitement.

Being in Africa as well, and being in company with President Ramaphosa is also a major opportunity to thank him for his leadership nationally and at the SADC level in everything that we are doing to address the issues of the future of work.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When the ILO launched its initiative on the future of work, and that was back in in 2016, we thought that the right place to start was by asking our members their views on the Future of Work. And so, as President Ramaphosa has recalled, we asked our member states to launch national dialogues, tripartite dialogues on the FoW. And we’re extremely encouraged by that 110 of our member states did just that. 31 of them were in Africa. This has been extraordinarily important because these national dialogues and the voice of Africa’s tripartite community were fed into our work of our Global Commission, from the outset, in an inception report.

That I think was very important raw material on which the Global Commission worked in the four sessions withheld between August of 2017 and November of 2018. There were some decisions taken very early in our Commission’s work, which have framed the report now before you. And which I think deserves some repetition.

Firstly, the Commission decided that it was going to produce a report which is concise, it’s an accessible report, a report that is action oriented. Not a technical report, although grounded in very strong technical research; not a set of forecasts or projections about the future because you can find plenty of those in different places.

And one of the basic points about our Commission is that – the future is not yet decided for us. The FoW is for us – governments, employers, workers – to construct together. And we want a FoW, which is an image of social justice and provides decent work for all. And then we decided that the report should focus strongly on the person, the individual – on a human being, and the work that she, or he, does. And those thoughts we inspired by the often-repeated parts of the original constitution of the ILO that labour is not a commodity, and the fact that the overall objective of policy making in all areas should be the advancement of the material welfare and spiritual development of each and every one of us.

And then, again as a starting point of its work, the Global Commission was acutely conscious – and this deserves also some repetition and emphasis – that this report has to make sense, and had to be relevant to, all of the 187 member states that make up the global family of the ILO. It had to be a report that addresses the situation of subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa for example, or a worker on a digital platform in any part of the world. And that was, I have to day, not a small challenge.

And so our Global Commission came up with the report which has now been really, really eloquently outlined to you by President Ramaphosa. It sets out a human-centered agenda for growth and development based upon these three pillars of investment: investments in people and their capacities; investments in the institutions of work; and investments in decent and sustainable work. This it at a time when the most frequently asked question about the FoW is indeed: where will the jobs of the future come from?

It’s not my intention now to repeat what has already been said about the content of these three pillars, they have already been put into you. I’d like that we just perhaps add a couple of underlined considerations to the ten recommendations that are contained in the report. There is a final chapter, it’s not the least important of the report, which is entitled – ‘taking responsibility’. And here, we make it clear that the Commission recognizes very well – whatever the value of its recommendations – their value being in the consequences that they produce, and those consequences depending entirely upon the extent to which they are the basis of action at the national, regional and international levels.

This final part of the report recommends that all of our member states put in place national strategies on the Future of Work, with tripartite involvement. It also recalls that at the international level, the new institutional arrangements that would promote better coherence between different areas of international policy making – not only in the field of labour, directly addressed by our work – but in the field of trade, and in the field of international finance. So, there is this idea of putting in place new institutional arrangements between, for example, the ILO, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary-funded World Bank, the Bretton Woods Institutions.

And I will add to this, that all that we do needs to be framed as well at the global level in the objectives set out of the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda, in which decent work issues are centrally located. But I would also add that the work we must do must conform, promote and reinforce in a mutual way the programmes of the African Union. And I think the current and no doubt the future leaders of the African Union would want to cognizance of that imperative.

So what happens next? Well, in the light of consultations and launching processes such as the one we’re engaged in today, the next big step in the ILO’s calendar is our centenary conference in Geneva this June. And many of you know very well this annual gathering, which is called the global parliament of labour, which brings together the constituents – governments, the labour ministries, the workers’ organizations and the employers’ organizations of the world.

This Centenary conference will be special because amongst other things, we will be adopting a declaration, solid declaration that must stand in comparison with the most historic documents of the International Labour Organization on the Future of Work. We have already begun the process of consultation, of what the Declaration might look like, it is going to be a major job ahead of us, but I think that we are all committed living up to the ambitions we have set ourselves. We have invited heads of governments, heads of state to attend the conference, and very encouraged that we will have a considerable number of dignitaries to accompany us. This declaration adopted in June, will set the stage of what happens next, as what happens after the conference is really what matters. What we do to translate the recommendations of our Global Commission, content of the declaration into action to bring results in your countries.

To that challenge the ILO will be framing its programme for the coming years only in November, in the light of what is decided and in Africa we have an extraordinary opportunity and its again a great fortunate accident of the calendar, that the next Regional meeting for Africa takes place in December in Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire in December. It is a golden opportunity for us to steer this whole process in the direction that our African constituents would require it to go.

I don’t think it is for me on this occasion, to point to where the priorities of your continent might lie in this direction, but rather for me to listen to you and you will have opportunity to make your views very, very clear in the process. I do want to insist on the fact that it’s a reality, that an acid test of the value of this whole future of work initiative will be the margin of difference will be able to make against the world of work in each and every one of your countries, the decent work deficits are sometimes considerable and where the ILO’s responsibility are equally considerable.

Let me close by echoing what President Ramaphosa said to us just a few minutes ago. This is a moment of accelerating change in the World of Work. We know it, let us not turn our back on it. It’s our challenge not to stop change, let’s shape change. Shape change so that it does lead to that Future of Work that we want. Yes the future brings with it, a panorama of opportunities, problems and challenges.

I want to close by saying that, we would do well that live up to meeting those challenges and opportunities, to take heed of what President Mandela had to tell us. When he said that, make your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears. So let’s go forward with that hope and the determination to build the brighter future of our Global Commission that’s before us.

I thank you for your attention