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ILO deputy head: The Centenary will be a milestone for the ILO

With a little over 100 days until the ILO’s Centenary, ILO Deputy Director-General Greg Vines explains where the Organization stands with preparations for the anniversary year.

News | 03 September 2018
Greg Vines

What do you hope and expect from the Centenary?

The Centenary year – which we are branding as “ILO100” – promises to be a momentous year, and will certainly be a tremendous milestone in our Organization’s history. I really hope that it will be a memorable experience for all involved, and that it will project the ILO in a positive and dynamic way to its members – governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations – and far beyond.

Since he launched the Centenary Initiatives, the Director-General has emphasized that the anniversary is an exceptional opportunity for the ILO. The year is both a time to look back at our history as one of the oldest organizations in the multilateral system, and to celebrate some of our many, substantial, achievements.

The anniversary will also be a time to look honestly and critically at the major challenges and changes taking place in the world of work, and how the ILO and its member States can respond to and shape these most effectively.

Our Future of Work Initiative addresses to these challenges. We have set up a Global Commission on the Future of Work which will present its report in January, and we expect that this report will provide the basis for discussion and engagement with our members and partners throughout the year.

You said that the Centenary is a milestone in ILO history. Can you develop further?

It is noticeable how many life-changing events are linked to the ten decades of ILO history. The ILO has played a role at key historical junctures – the Great Depression in the 1930s, decolonization, the creation of the independent trade union Solidarność in communist Poland, the victory over apartheid in South Africa – and today in the building of an ethical and productive framework for a fair globalization.

From its earliest days the International Labour Organization developed a mandate that was quite distinct from the rest of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations founded in 1919. While the League was established with considerable difficulty, the ILO was in full swing early in its existence.

After World War II the ILO was soon prominent on the international scene again, largely due to the adoption of the Declaration of Philadelphia. Its principles are as relevant today as they were in 1944. The Declaration of Philadelphia established that labour is not a commodity. That freedom of expression and association are essential to sustained progress. That poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere.

Today, as we look into the future of work and our societies, the principles put forward by the Declaration of Philadelphia are more relevant than ever. Over the past two years more than 110 national dialogues have been held on the future of work bringing together government, employers and workers – so we have heard many people speak about the future of work. Their reflections on it, their plans, their hopes – but all too often as well their fears and their worries too.

Let’s face it. If the long arc of history does not bend towards decent work and social justice, it may well go into the opposite direction. But the future is not predetermined for us. Decent work for all is possible – but we have to make it happen. The need will be to turn the tide of change, not simply defend against it.

It is precisely with this imperative that the ILO established its Global Commission on the Future of Work as part of its initiative to mark its Centenary in 2019.

How do you see the future of work – will it be a future without jobs?

We all know that the world of work is changing, and that the pace, scale and depth of the transformations that we are currently witnessing is unprecedented. There is a widespread consensus that the world is entering a ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

There is a danger, however, that technological changes, including digitalization and robotics, will dominate the debate on the future of work to the exclusion of all other factors. We know it will create some jobs and destroy others. But the balance sheet of this process of creative destruction remains in dispute. Our task is to manage technological innovation to the best social advantage.

But technology is not the only driver of change. Others include the organization of work and production, globalization, climate change, and demography. This is why the ILO has embarked upon a major initiative to investigate the future of work in its broadest context.