The future of work, nothing but challenges and opportunities

The future of work, nothing but challenges and opportunities

How the future of work is understood, conceptualised and shaped will determine where humanity ends up. It is about priorities: what emphasis we put on promoting humanity versus corporate greed; where, in the scale of interests do we place social justice and sustainable development; in summary, how we ensure that the world of work serves tomorrow’s societies.

(EC-Audiovisual Service/Jose Manuel Ribeiro)

The world of work is undergoing a metamorphosis. Technological progress, artificial intelligence, automation and robotisation, deepening globalization, ever-more fragmented global supply chains and climate change are some of the drivers of this change. We are seeing a reshaping of the very functioning of the world of work: the quantity and quality of jobs created, the diversity of opportunities they offer and the employer-employee relationship are all undergoing transformations.

We cannot stop these drivers. However, we: governments, international organisations, employers, workers unions, NGOs, civil society, can surely manage them.

How the future of work is understood, conceptualised and shaped will determine where humanity ends up. It is about priorities: what emphasis we put on promoting humanity versus corporate greed; where, in the scale of interests do we place social justice and sustainable development; in summary, how we ensure that the world of work serves tomorrow’s societies. It might sound grandiloquent, but nothing less than world peace and justice are at stake here.

To address the challenges and opportunities of this future, the International Labour Organization (ILO) launched a global dialogue in 2016. The outcomes of three full years of discussions – still ongoing – will be central to the one hundredth year anniversary of the ILO, next year.

Nevertheless, the debate will go beyond 2019, and this is because the international community committed to creating full employment and decent work for all by 2030 (by adopting the 2030 Agenda and its set of Sustainable Development Goals).

In this summer review, we have collected a series of articles focused on the future of work: from the changing role of trade unions to the policy changes needed in this new scenario; the solutions to youth unemployment and women’s inequality in the workplace; and the changes in the organisation of work and production.

As Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) put it: “Social dialogue is key to the new social contract”.

“Where the social contract is in place and governments respect the role of social partners in negotiating solutions, where social protection, minimum living wages, collective bargaining, vital public services, industry policy and fair taxation are in place, inclusive growth is possible. While these societies are not immune to the challenges of climate, rapid digitalisation, robotics or automation, collective responsibility for negotiating just transitions can give us answers”, said Burrow in a recent op-ed published by Equal Times.

Our journalist Julian Hale recently tackled the issue of the “bogus self-employed”, a growing trend driven by the gig economy:

“Unfortunately, the gig economy brings with it a lot of uncertainty for people in the form of bogus self-employment. Workers have no basic rights, like a minimum income. This is a fundamental problem in Europe and it has to change. That’s why I’m very proud that the Danish Union 3F fought for the rights of the workers in the cleaning services sector. They are not bogus self-employed anymore but workers with rights!”, said Agnes Jongerius, a former Dutch trade unionist and MEP with the Dutch Labour Party who sits on the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee.

In many parts of the world, informal economy workers and their transition to the formal economy is still the main issue. From Uganda, Diana Taremwa Karakire reports on how trade unions are making use of all the available tools to facilitate this transition for transport workers. “The Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union (ATGWU) strategy for organising informal economy workers was based on an understanding that these workers are in many cases already organised, not within the trade union movement, but through credit and savings cooperatives, informal self-help groups, community-based organisations, and, most importantly, associations”, writes the author.

The fashion industry gives us an opportunity to look at some trends of the future of work. In her in-depth report, our journalist María José Carmona reports: “First, textile manufacturing went from Europe to North Africa, then from North Africa to China and, subsequently, from China to Bangladesh, as part of the quest for ever greater profit margins, secured by shifting to countries were workers are paid even less and have fewer rights. The next shift may well be from Bangladesh to robotic manufacturing operations in Europe and the United States. After all, they do not need a wage and can work without rest. And, of course, they do not complain.”

Finally, while we lay no claim to an exhaustive assessment of the future world of work, we close by taking a look at the gender pay gap. “Fixing” it is key to succeed the challenges that lie ahead.

A model failure: why the world needs a new social contract

By Sharan Burrow

The promise of a zero-poverty, zero-carbon world will require the massive reform of global governance and the commitment of national governments to act in the interests of their people.

Photo: Chhor Sokunthea/World Bank

Democracy is collateral damage in a world where multilateralism has failed and a model of corporate greed has demolished the promises of the social contract that was carved out of the destiny of two world wars and a Great Depression.

This global model of economic growth has fuelled the corporate greed which has torn apart the social contract. Global earnings for working people have been falling for the past three decades, and income inequality has grown in 53 per cent of countries.

It is this very same model of growth that has contributed to the decline in the labour share of income across Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economies, and to wages systematically falling behind productivity growth in a majority of them – a model that denies workers their fair share of the fruits of economic progress.

Read the full article on Equal Times

In Denmark, a historic collective agreement is turning the “bogus self-employed” into “workers with rights”

By Julian Hale

Tina Møller Madsen (left) from the Danish union 3F hands the official ‘OK’ sign (symbolising that a collective agreement has been reached) to Niels Martin Andersen (right) from Danish online cleaning platform, Hilfr.

Photo: 3F/PSHR

In a world first, as of this August, hundreds of workers for a Danish online platform for cleaning in private homes will benefit from significant guarantees under a new collective agreement signed in April. There are around 450 workers for, a website that provides cleaning services for around 1,700 customers across Denmark.

Hilfr co-founder Steffen Wegner Mortensen is quoted as saying that the agreement is “raising the bar for the gig economy and showing how we can all benefit from new technology without undermining labour rights and working conditions”.

Thorkild Holmboe-Hay, the author of the agreement, tells Equal Times: “With this agreement Hilfr domestic cleaners, who were formerly self-employed, become workers and are thereby protected by EU and national labour law.”

Read the full article on Equal Times

Cheap labour versus robots, who will sew the clothes of the future?

By María José Carmona

The Kniterate printer uses yarn bobbins to make anything from scarves to t-shirts. As Gerard Rubio, one of its developers, points out: “Digital manufacturing represents a great opportunity for local production. I think we are likely to see manufacturing gradually coming back to Europe.”

Photo: Kniterate

The t-shirt you are going to buy next month is probably being made at this very moment. A woman of about 30 years old, from a humble family in Vietnam or Bangladesh, is probably sitting, right now, in a poorly ventilated, overcrowded factory, sewing an article of clothing that you do not even know you need yet.

Sixty per cent of the clothing and footwear we buy under the labels of major multinationals are produced in south-east Asia. Perhaps you already knew that. But what you may not know is that, at this very moment, about 15,000 kilometres from the Vietnamese factory where the woman is sewing, a group of IT engineers is looking into whether a robot could do her job.

Over the last seven years, the North American startup Softwear Automation has been developing a machine capable of stitching anything from a towel to a pair of trousers, totally autonomously. It is the most complicated step in the textile process, and requires a precision and skill that only human hands have been capable of until now. But the Atlanta-based company has launched LOWRY, one of the latest ‘sewbots’ or sewing robots. The secret lies in the incorporation of a camera so that the machine can take photos while it sews, to control its movements better. The invention has already seduced the North American retail chain Walmart, which has invested US$2 million to fund its development.

Read the full article on Equal Times

In Uganda, unions are helping to drive transport workers into decent work

By Diana Taremwa Karakire

According to estimates there are anything between 100,000 and 250,000 boda-boda drivers in Kampala alone.

Photo: Nicholas Bamulanzeki

Three years ago, Samuel Mugisha almost quit his job. As the driver of a motorbike taxi (known locally as a boda-boda) in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, rampant police harassment was having a huge, negative impact on his daily earnings. But today, Samuel is thriving as a member of the 38,000-member Kampala Metropolitan Boda-Boda Association (KAMBA).

Launched in January 2014, the association is one of the newest members of Uganda’s oldest trade union, the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union (ATGWU), which today is leading the drive to represent informal transport workers and help secure decent work for all of its members.

After decades of ever-declining numbers of formal transport workers, the ATGWU is on the up. It now has close to 60,000 members, with the significant intake of informal transport workers such as minibus taxi drivers, bicycle taxi drivers and boda-boda drivers giving the union a new lease of life.

Read the full article on Equal Times

The global youth unemployment crisis: the great challenge of our time (along with climate change)

By Esther Ortiz

In this photo from April 2016, French young people protest against the labour reforms making them more vulnerable on the labour market.

Photo: AP/Christophe Ena

Up to 90 per cent. This is how decisive a factor young people from around world – interviewed by the Millennial Dialogue foundation – consider the economy to be with regard to their “future quality of life”.

As the debate broadens about the future of work in the context of the current industrial revolution, what seems clear is that the chronic unemployment and job instability affecting young people, in addition to their distrust of politics, hold devastating consequences for society as a whole.

“The youth unemployment crisis, specifically – in the context of the global employment situation – is, along with climate change, the great challenge of our time,” the head of the ILO Office in Spain, Joaquín Nieto, tells Equal Times.

“Every year around the world, 40 million young people – 400 million in a decade – join a labour market that is not growing enough.” Around 70 million out of the 200 million people out of work are young, and as Nieto warns, “if the economy does not prove capable of finding a solution, we are going to find ourselves with a lost generation” bringing with it a “ loss of human capital, social exclusion and dislocation”.

Read the full article on Equal Times

Competitiveness, growth and employment in Europe: the benefits of embracing equality in STEM

By Marta Checa

Monica Passananti (left), postdoctoral fellow in physics, and Golnaz Roudsari (right), a PhD student in theoretical physics, at the Atmospheric Mass Spectrometry & Atmospheric Physical Chemistry Laboratory of the Physics Department of Helsinki University.

Photo: Marta Checa

Why do so few women opt for or complete science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) degrees, occupy less than two out of every 10 jobs and represent 22 per cent of the female graduates in these sectors in the European Union? And even more importantly, what can be done to end this underrepresentation, bearing in mind that STEM studies are particularly challenging and therefore less attractive to men and women alike, despite being the most promising in terms of the job opportunities provided by the Fourth Industrial Revolution in which we are currently immersed?

Gender segregation, both in the world of education and work, be it vertical (the concentration of one gender within certain pay scales, levels of responsibility or posts) or horizontal (the concentration of one gender in certain fields, men mainly in STEM, and women in education, health and welfare, to the tune of over 60 per cent), is a reality across the EU. The segregation in STEM, education, health and welfare sectors, where the highest levels exist, has seen no improvement in the last decade, and remains “persistently high”, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).

In its report on gender segregation in education, training and the labour market, drawn up for the Council in October 2017, the EIGE is emphatic: “Gender segregation narrows life choices, education and employment options, leads to unequal pay, further reinforces gender stereotypes, and limits access to certain jobs while also perpetuating unequal gender power relations in the public and private spheres,” and is one of the factors contributing to the shortage of STEM professionals, as well as to the inefficiency and rigidity of the labour market.

Read the full article on Equal Times