Technology needs to work for employers and workers in an equitable future of work

Address by Mr Satoshi Sasaki, OIC/Deputy Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi, at the New Technologies and the Future of Work conference

Statement | New Delhi, India | 17 July 2023
Most gig workers are below the age of 35, male and reside in urban or suburban areas. Over 60 per cent on online platformers are highly educated, including over 20 per cent of app-based taxi drivers and delivery workers. These are some of the key findings from the ILO’s 2021 World Employment and Social Outlook. This may reflect employment contexts, such as a lack of local employment opportunities that correspond to workers’ skill levels.

Most workers expressed their desire to work more but they were unable to get extra gigs because of excess labour supply and scarcity of tasks. Additionally, given how women navigate and access app-based work also requires intervention to ensure their equal participation in new forms of employment.

Technology needs to be understood for how it can work to the benefit of workers and employers, rather than working against them, to create a more equitable future of work. ChatGPT, AI, Web3, Gig Economy. These are some of the phrases we hear now when technology and work are mentioned together. These are also terms no one would have been familiar with merely 2-3 years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic began. I mention this to highlight just how rapidly technology is evolving, and with it, changing and shaping the world of work. Digital platforms have become synonymous with certain kinds of work, with phrases like “Call an uber” or “Let’s Zomato it” now a part of common phrasing.

Since 2015, the ILO has been working on digital labour platforms to understand the implications of this new form of work organization on workers. In the last few years, app-based services that operate as digital labour platforms have helped create more diverse work opportunities which are fundamentally different from how traditional businesses operate. They have introduced a greater degree of flexibility in how workers can organize their work, allowed those workers to access the labour market who were prevented from entering it traditionally, like women, people with disabilities and marginalised communities, and also improved efficiency and organizational performance.

However, they have also upended traditional employment conditions with low incomes, irregular work, lack of social protection, lack of access to workers’ collective and individual rights and protection, and occupational safety and health risks. The International Labour Standards mandate that every worker has universal labour rights. So, in an environment where workers are classified as “self-employed”, how do these rights get guaranteed to gig workers? Given the international scope of the operation of these platforms, International policy dialogue and coordination is inevitable to ensure that the digital economy becomes a powerful driver for fair competition and decent work for all.

Women carry out most of the care work, often without recognition and remuneration, done either at the cost of or in addition to formal employment. The digital age presents an opportunity to help mainstream women’s participation in the economy while allowing them to balance their work and care responsibilities. This can be done in two ways, by ensuring access and equity to them. For example, for a home-based worker to become a gig worker, it’s about getting her access to technology or a phone so she can offer her product or services to the economy, while for a woman in a managerial position in a corporate, it’s offering the choice of a flexible working schedule.

In 2021, ILO and SCOPE published a study report on the Impact of work from home on Women Executives and Managers in PSEs in India. The report found that many women executives had cited the work-from-home arrangement as an influential factor in not only advancing their careers but also facilitating a better work-life balance. The 2019 Global Commission on the Future of Work stated, “Today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow, and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete”. The digital economy requires different skills, which calls for upskilling and reskilling of the workforce to protect them against vulnerabilities. Digital technologies can be effectively harnessed to promote decent work for all by providing quality employment.

Governments in many countries are utilizing digital technologies to promote formalization through the registration of both economic units and of employment, digital payments or electronic payroll, providing social protection and other benefits, and filing and payment of taxes, among others. This strategy can be replicated and scaled up in a variety of different contexts, including on digital labour platforms, so as to ensure decent work for all workers.

With this, I look forward to engaging discussions across the panels and wish you success at this conference.