The Future of Work

A collective responsibility

Speaking in the presence of the President of Italy at an event in Rome to mark the Centenary of the International Labour Organization, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, outlined the challenges facing the world of work and the need to work together for a future we want.

Statement | Rome, Italy | 31 May 2019
State Secretary for Labour and Social Policies,
Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation,
Representatives of the social partners,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends,

A democratic Republic founded on Labour.

A founding member of the International Labour Organization.

The country which is among those which have ratified the most international labour Conventions – 113.

A country whose modern history has been profoundly influenced directly by dialogue and interactions between its trade unions, its employers’ organizations and Government.

A country whose President will open the High-Level Section at the Centenary International Labour Conference in Geneva next month, in which more than 40 Heads of State and Government will participate.

A country whose protagonism and leadership has marked the ILO – with the exception of the hiatus of its departure in 1939 – for 100 years.

A country which hosts and generously supports the ILO’s International Training Center in Turin.

These are reasons why it is particular honour for me to be in Italy today to mark with our tripartite Italian constituents the Centenary of the ILO.

I thank colleagues from the Ministries of Labour and of Foreign Affairs for organizing this important event and also thank Mayor Raggi for allowing us to meet in these beautiful surroundings, an event which allows us not only to bear witness to the historic contribution of Italy and Italians but also to reflect on the challenges and opportunities that the Future of Work presents.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A hundred years ago, when the governments, employers and workers of the world came together to form the ILO – the greatest international social contract for social justice in history – it was then impossible to even imagine that workers would be able to enjoy the rights and protections that they do enjoy today. We have come a very long way in creating truly humane conditions of work around the world. And yet, extraordinary challenges persist, and our current circumstances mean that it is very difficult to predict today what the world of work will look like even in ten years from now.

The current pace of change in the world of work is putting pressure on already challenged labour markets. Our societies are undergoing fundamental transformations, driven not only by technological innovation, but also by demographic shifts and climate change. Polarization and widening inequalities are eroding the foundations of long-term economic growth, social cohesion, and the quality of life in too many of the ILO member States.

These major disruptions in the world of work are generating a great deal of uncertainty, a great deal of insecurity, and even fear in the face of change.

Around the world, people want to know if their jobs will exist tomorrow, if their skills will be relevant, if their boss will be an algorithm or if robots will simply take over their jobs. These issues are at the top of the national and international policy agendas and for these reasons, we have decided to focus the ILO’s Centenary not on our 100 years’ history but on the future and the future of work.

That decision was based on the conviction that the future of work is not pre-determined, and that it is up to us to shape a future that respect the rights of working people and that delivers economic security, equal opportunities and social justice.

Italy has contributed greatly to the ILO Centenary Initiative on the Future of Work both through a series of national events and through his Presidency of the G7 in 2017. What Italy does, what Italy has to say about the Future of Work matters immensely – not least in the light of our shared history and the founding vision of your Republic.

In a few day the Centenary International Labour Conference will convey in Geneva with the ambition of adopting a solemn Declaration on the Future of Work. It will be greatly helped in this by the recommendations of the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work which co-chaired by President Ramaphosa of South Africa and Prime Minister Löfven of Sweden and published its report in January of this year.

Professor Giovannini was a very active member of this Commission and we will shortly hear from him about that experience.

But, if you will allow me, I will summarize a few of the key points from the Report of the Commission. Above all, this report is about people, it is about investment, but investment of a different sort than we usually associate with economic policy. It proposes a human-centred agenda that places people and the work that they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practices.

This human-centred agenda is built around investment in three pillars to drive growth, equity and sustainability in our societies, maximizing the opportunities and minimizing the risks from the unprecedented changes we see already in the world of work.

The first pillar focuses on investment in people’s capabilities so that they can take advantage, fully, of the real opportunities that the future of work offers by supporting them through the multiple transitions they will inevitably have to face over their working lives.

Under this pillar, the report calls for universal social protection from birth to old age. It proposes a universal entitlement to lifelong learning – in other words, a right to learning throughout one’s working life. And it calls for a transformative agenda for gender equality that realizes the ILO’s 100 years old principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value and puts an end to the gender pay gap, which continues to be one of the greatest injustices in today’s world of work.

The second pillar revolves around increasing investment in the institutions of work. The report reminds us, as does the ILO Constitution, that “labour is not a commodity” and that the role of institutions is to regulate labour markets that prevent it from being treated as such. Where the nature of work is changing, we need to strengthen these institutions correspondingly.

Among its recommendations, the Commission proposed to establish a Universal Labour Guarantee, which would ensure that all workers – regardless of their employment status or contractual arrangements – enjoy their fundamental rights at work, an “adequate living wage”, a maximum number of hours of work and health and safety at work as a fundamental right. These guarantees were already part of the ILO Constitution of 1919, but their application continues to remain a distant prospect for too many people in the world.

The report urges us to take advantage of technological developments so that workers have greater control over their working time, and so are able to balance better their professional and private lives. It calls for the revitalization of policies to promote collective bargaining and social dialogue as a public good.

The third pillar is about increasing investment in decent and sustainable work: the jobs of the future. According to the Commission, we should be investing in transformative, job-rich areas of the economy, such as the rural economy, the care economy, and the green economy in addition to high-quality physical, digital and social infrastructure. This is where the jobs of the future will come from.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The challenge facing us all today is to reinvigorate the social contract that allows enterprises to prosper, gives working people a just share of economic progress and respect their rights and protection against risks in return for their continuing contribution to society and shared prosperity.

Social dialogue is the way the ILO works. It can and must ensure the relevance of this contract to managing the changes under way.

In these often difficult and uncertain times it is our collective responsibility, indeed our mandate, to continue working together as we have done over the past 100 years.

It will be for our tripartite constituents in Italy and in the ILO other 186 member States, to decide what the future of work will look like in the 21st Century.

I look forward to today’s discussion and I look forward to the continued strong partnership with Italy and the ILO in the future.

Thank you all for your attention.