Remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the official launch of the Global Commission on the Future of Work Report in Geneva, Switzerland, 22 January 2019

Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, Mr Guy Ryder,
Representatives of international agencies,
Representatives of the Canton and Ville de Genève,
Representatives of employers and workers groups present,
Friends of the ILO,
Members of the media,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon, and thank you to the Global Commission of the International Labour Organisation for affording me the opportunity to offer some brief insights into the important work that is being launched here today.

I had hoped to be sharing this platform with my co-chair, Prime Minister Löfven, but as he is chairing his first Cabinet meeting he cannot be with us today.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate him on his re-election and wish him and his new government well for the future.

This is an important year in the history of the ILO.

The organisation marks its second century of advancing social justice in the world of work and in furthering its mission of promoting jobs and protecting people.

The ILO’s mission is informed by an implicit recognition that decent employment is inextricably tied to peace, prosperity and progress in the world.

We also strive to advance the work of the ILO within the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – in particular Goal 8, which aims to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Since we began our work 15 months ago, the Commission has been clear that people and the work they do must be at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice.

What we are launching here today is not a technical report; nor is it exhaustive.

We remain only too aware that the pathway to the future of the world of work does not follow a straight line.

It is our hope that the report is the beginning of a journey, and that there will be momentum to take its findings forward, with broader participation nationally and internationally.

I have been privileged to have served as co-chair of the Global Commission on the Future of Work, and to have engaged with a group of extremely accomplished individuals.

They have brought their unique perspectives to our deliberations around advancing social justice at a time when the global world of work is in a state of rapid flux.

Changes in the global economy brought about by technological advancement, demography, globalisation and climate change, among others, are fundamentally transforming the nature and form of what constitutes work.

The transitions brought about by these powerful forces create urgent challenges for us as the global community.

Increased inequality and insecurity have become defining features in the labour markets of many countries, with social and political consequences few could have imagined.

Following a solid period of international cooperation and multilateralism, we are now seeing some countries move away from global and regional integration towards unilateralism and narrow nationalism.

We know much of this malaise has its roots in labour markets and on whether they deliver inclusive and equitable outcomes, or reinforce inequality and amplify uncertainty.

The Commission’s work has been informed by the outcomes of successive dialogues between government representatives, employers’ organisations and trade unions in more than 110 of the member states of the ILO.

The report focuses on three pillars, with recommendations under each.

The first pillar is increasing investment in people’s capabilities, particularly those needed to thrive in a carbon-neutral, digital age.

This goes beyond merely investing in human capital but speaks to the broader dimensions of human development.

Under this pillar, the Commission’s first recommendation is for the formal recognition of a universal entitlement to lifelong learning and the establishment of an effective lifelong learning system.

If people are to benefit from new opportunities, they need to re-skill and up-skill throughout their lives.

Governments, workers and employers, as well as educational institutions, have complementary responsibilities in building an effective and appropriately financed lifelong learning ecosystem, and our report provides concrete considerations in this regard.

The second recommendation is to step up investments in the institutions, policies and strategies that will support people through the transitions associated with changes in the world of work.

While there have always been transitions in the world of work – be it from formal study to work, the result of fluctuations in the labour market, or from work into retirement – these powerful forces have compounded the need to provide the necessary support during these transitions.

The third recommendation is a transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality for the future of work.

While we recognise that there have been advances in broadening women’s participation in the labour market, the pace of change has been slow.

As the report notes for example, women still perform three-quarters of all unpaid care work.

It is time to move beyond the rhetoric.

This includes:

–     the adoption of policies that promote the sharing of care and family responsibilities;

–     proper accounting for unpaid care work;

–     pay transparency policies, including mandatory reporting;

–     greater representation of women in employers’ and workers’ organisations;

–     specific measures to ensure equal opportunities in the technology-enabled jobs of the future; and,

–     the elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace.

The final recommendation under this pillar – which underpins all of the above – is universal social protection from birth to old age, including a basic social protection floor to everybody in need, complemented by contributory social insurance schemes that provide increased levels of protection.

The second pillar concerns increased investment in the institutions of work.

Labour market institutions – such as employment contracts and regulations, minimum wages and labour inspection systems – are the building blocks of just societies.

They forge pathways to formalisation, and help to reduce inequality and working poverty.

The first recommendation is the establishment of a Universal Labour Guarantee that ensures that all workers, regardless of their contractual arrangement or employment status, enjoy fundamental workers’ rights.

It must ensure that all workers have an ‘adequate living wage’, maximum limits on hours of work and protection of safety and health at work.

The second recommendation is to leverage the opportunities to craft working time arrangements that expand ‘time sovereignty’, and give workers greater autonomy over their working time, while at the same time meeting the needs of business.

The third recommendation is to renew the democratic underpinnings of our labour markets by revitalising collective representation through policies that promote collective bargaining and social dialogue.

The final recommendation under this pillar is to use technology in support of decent work and for a “human in command” approach that ensures that technology improves the lives of workers instead of reducing their control over work processes.

The third pillar involves increasing investment in decent and sustainable work.

There are countless opportunities to harness the transformations underway for decent work, but this requires the shaping of incentives to forge an inclusive, human-centred growth and development path.

The Commission’s first recommendation is to develop incentives to promote investments in key areas that promote decent and sustainable work.

In this regard, developing the rural economy and the green economy, as well as the provision of high-quality physical and digital infrastructure, will be key.

Recognising as we do that GDP alone is not a sufficient indicator of economic growth, the second recommendation is reshaping business incentive structures for long-term investments in the real economy and developing supplementary indicators of human development and well-being.

The report argues that we need, among other things, broader measures that capture environmental issues, work that is currently unpaid, equality, and other aspects of human well-being.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The ILO is perfectly positioned to provide guidance as countries of the world navigate the new world of work in an age of rapid globalisation.

Today, there are fewer incidents of child and forced labour.

Millions have been lifted out of poverty as a result of rising incomes.

More women are participating in the labour market, and working hours have been progressively reduced.

In many countries, there are protection systems to prevent worker exploitation and discrimination.

But we know that our world is beset with varied forms of inequality that have in turn impacted the global labour market.

In our interconnected world, we cannot afford a scenario where the world of work translates into prosperity and progress for some, while other societies are negatively impacted by high unemployment and extreme poverty.

If we are to realise the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals and end poverty everywhere by 2030 – and build a future of work that is both just and equitable – all social partners must play their part.

The final part of the report looks at what is needed to implement the commission’s recommendations.

It proposes that countries establish national strategies on the future of work through social dialogue between governments and employers’ and workers’ organisations.

The stakes have never been higher.

How we respond to the economic, political and societal changes that are upon us will be critical in the years and decades to come.

The future of our societies depend on the choices we make now.

As we look to the future, we will need employers’ and workers’ organisations and governments to reinvigorate their social contracts to meet the challenges we face.

The global economy has become increasingly integrated, and as such the commitments countries make in furtherance of the report’s recommendations must be global.

Our collective mission is to ensure that we provide the means for the full value of the human potential to be realised.

It is through collaboration that we will be best able to seize the opportunities that change brings to deliver greater economic security, more equal opportunities and, above all, social justice.

I thank you.