Empowering individuals in a changing world of work

Speech of the ILO Director-General at the G7 Social Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting (7 June 2019)

Statement | 07 June 2019
Thank you, Minister, for giving me the floor. Thank you for the leadership and the ambition that you have brought to this G7 Social Ministerial meeting.

Thank you also for the manner in which you have made the work of this group resonate so strongly with the work to be done by the centenary International Labour Conference that opens next week. It is extraordinarily encouraging and helpful, and I wanted to record that in my initial comments.

The future of work – how we react to and anticipate the rapid changes taking place in the future of work, to construct the future that we all want – is at the heart of the ILO centenary, and of this G7 meeting.

It seems axiomatic – we hear it all the time, and always the same thing: this will present both challenges and opportunities. We need to direct all our efforts to enabling people to take advantage of the opportunities, and to overcome the challenges. Empowering individuals is at the heart of that work.

The ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work, co-chaired by the Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and about which he spoke last night, called for a human-centred agenda that places people and the work that they do at the heart of economic and social policies and business practices. In so doing the Commission tabled a set of recommendations calling for greater investments in people’s capabilities; greater investment in the institutions of work; and in decent and sustainable work, when it comes to the jobs of the future. The agenda is intended to revitalize what the Global Commission called “the most ambitious global social contract in history” -- the ILO Constitution -- that also lies at the heart of governments’ relationship with their citizens, and businesses’ relationship with their workers.

Empowering people requires investing in their capabilities. We need to enable people to navigate the major economic transitions ahead, including the transition to a digitalized world of work, to a carbon-neutral production system, and in many cases to a longer working life.

There are three elements that I need to underline at this point.

Firstly, developing a workforce that can adapt to new and increasingly complex jobs requires that people have strong core skills and are empowered to develop their skills over the life-course. These skills will become a source of comparative advantage for economies and provide people with greater security and opportunity as they face job transitions in the future.

To this end, the Global Commission recommended the establishment of an entitlement to life-long learning, and that governments implement delivery systems that make skilling, up-skilling and re-skilling a part of everybody’s working lives, through a whole-of-government approach that:
  • implements labour market measures to support workers through job transitions;
  • strengthens relevant support systems, such as career guidance or care services for both children and the elderly;
  • targets workers in SMEs in particular, as well as the lower skilled workers who are traditionally under-represented in training;
  • places greater emphasis on coordination at all levels of government;
  • and involves the social partners through systems of tripartite social dialogue.
It has almost become a cliché to say that this requires everyone to assume their responsibilities – the state, the enterprise, the individuals themselves. There is violent agreement as to the importance of life-long learning; we now have to unpack that, and look at these more concrete questions.

Secondly, we need to invest much more in our social protection systems. We see it as a facilitator and a lubricant of people’s capacity to adapt, an important starting point in the approach we are taking. Social protection from childhood to old age is not simply a matter of right, it is an investment in people’s capabilities. It enables people to embrace rather than resist change.

In order for social protection systems to facilitate smooth work and life transitions, entitlements need to be portable and transferable, including for migrant workers. This requires better coordination and less fragmentation in social protection systems. It entails prioritizing collectively-financed social protection mechanisms, such as social insurance, over forms of protection linked to a specific employer.

Unemployment protection schemes play a key role in facilitating transitions between jobs. This is particularly important in contexts of technological change or transition to low carbon economies, which can involve the wholesale dislocation of workers.

Governments are already implementing systems that allow workers to draw on funds that help them train for these transitions, which is a crucial way to empower individuals in the rapidly changing world of work.

And the third and final area of investment in people, Ministers, must address the issue of gender equality that was emphasized last night, a priority issue under the French Presidency.

Empowering women means that we have to reengineer the relationship between parenthood, unpaid care work and paid employment. We need to lower the persisting structural barriers that women face in labour markets that arise from their status as mothers -- or even potential mothers. Many G7 countries are already investing in a stronger care economy, paid parental leave policies, and incentives to take paternity leave; these are all part of the solution. Now these policies need to be scaled up and become more integrated.

Two concluding comments if I may, Minister.

The first concerns resources. This is an ambitious agenda for empowering people - it requires political will as well as financial resources. Governments, workers and employers must all play their part. We need to re-examine fiscal policies, both nationally and internationally, so that the necessary resources can be generated. Aligning business incentives and behaviour to the delivery of this agenda, as the ILO’s Global Commission recommended, will also generate critically important resources.

And with the right supports in place, workers will be able to cope with the risks they face in a changing world of work and turn those into opportunities. The point here is that inaction and a failure to involve everybody productively in the future of work would inevitably result in the heaviest fiscal burden of all. The financial resources that we collectively need to raise are an investment to deliver on the social contract.

And to close, one observation: empowering people through the policies and programmes that I have described, that invest in their capabilities and, at the same time, fuel sustainable enterprises, represents the best antidote to the profound sense of instability, anxiety and even fear that we see in too many countries across the world, in countries at every stage of development. This is the essence of the human-centred agenda, and the right path to start reducing the growing inequalities that we observe in many of our societies.

Thank you.