ILO 100th Anniversary Calls for Adaptation to Technology Disruption
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The ILO 100th anniversary was commemorated by the UN General Assembly on 10 April 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

The UNGA President stressed that issues of social justice will become “even more important” as the world of work changes, adding that “ILO is the standard bearer for SDG 8”.

The President of ECOSOC called for redoubling efforts to maintain momentum around the upcoming 2019 HLPF, which will, among other Goals, review SDG 8, and around implementing the 2030 Agenda in general.

10 April 2019: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the International Labour Organization (ILO) by discussing policies needed to ensure decent work and social protection during increasing global inequality and the risk of job loss to automation by millions. High-level representatives of governments, the UN system, the private sector, civil society, academia, and international organizations also addressed the benefits that greening the economy and digitization could bring.

UNGA commemorated ILO’s 100th anniversary on 10 April 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

Opening the meeting, UNGA President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces noted that, despite the 180 ILO conventions, ranging from gender equality to forced labor, “injustice is still a reality for millions.” She provided several examples, including that: over 40 million people today are victims of modern slavery, which is more than twice the number involved in the transatlantic slave trade; 190 million people are unemployed worldwide, a third of whom are young; 300 million people make up the working poor, half of whom are young; and 2 billion people are engaged in informal work, often without social protections. She stressed that issues of social justice will become “even more important” as the world of work changes, adding that “ILO is the standard bearer for SDG 8” (decent work and economic growth).

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said ILO has been “a trusted voice” to expand opportunities for young people, “open doors and break glass ceilings” for women, as well as ensure social justice “in every corner of the world.” Noting that innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) will help power economies and progress on the SGDs, the Secretary-General mentioned that the world will face “tremendous” disruption in the labor market, with an “enormous amount” of jobs created and jobs destroyed, as well as changes to the very meaning of the concept of “work” and the relationship between work, leisure and other occupations. To address these changes, Guterres stressed the need for a “massive” investment in education, and in a different sort of education that is not just about learning things but “learning how to learn.” He further emphasized the necessity for a new generation of support and social protection policies for the people.

Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, described ILO’s birth as the first step in the construction of the multilateral system and a forebearer of the UN. He said ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work published a ‘Centenary on the Future of Work’ report, which provides ten main recommendations on a human‑centered agenda for growth and development, while calling for investments in people’s capacities and in the sustainable and decent jobs of the future.

Unchecked growth is an existential threat.

Inga Rhonda King, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), highlighted that today’s workers need an “entirely new” set of skills and a new system of learning to adjust to the changing labor market. She called for redoubling efforts to maintain momentum around the upcoming 2019 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which will, among other Goals, review SDG 8, and around implementing the 2030 Agenda in general.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), noted that, since the 1980s, the world has seen the erosion of a social contract promising decent work and protection from exploitation. Inequality is currently “overwhelming,” she said, with the concentration of wealth continuing to be fueled by corporations. Noting that 60% of the global workforce is in informal work, she cautioned that working people “have simply lost trust” in institutions, globalization, and democracy. She stressed the need for a system that promotes fair competition and respect for rights. Erol Kiresepi, President, International Organisation of Employers (IOE), said employers want to be part of the solution, and the IOE wants to contribute to a “robust” ILO that ensures decent work for all.

Jolly Amatya, UN Major Group for Children and Youth Secretariat, noted that USD 1.7 trillion is spent each year on military expenses because economic models cannot tell the differences between instruments of war and those of well-being, while wages stagnate despite “enormous” economic growth. Underscoring that “unchecked growth is an existential threat,” she called for a move beyond gross domestic product (GDP) to indicators that measure the well-being of all people and of the planet. Via video message, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said the EU recognizes its obligation to adapt to future realities “with multilateralism at its core.”

During a panel on ‘Addressing Unfinished Commitments to Achieve Decent Work for All,’ Steven Greenhouse, Author, Former Labor and Workplace Reporter, New York Times, observed that, over the course of his journalism career, the media gradually moved their focus from the world of work to the technology sector. He lamented that panels on work issues often feature multiple billionaires while there is almost no discussion of people who earn less than USD 1.90 per day.

Reema Nanavaty, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), India, said organizing is the surest way to address the “double issues” of poverty and the future of work. In order to achieve a holistic approach to work that puts workers at the center and restores balance with the environment, she identified as essential the decentralization of production and increasingly localized distribution of goods and services, as well as policies that enable collective bargaining. Mthunzi Mdwaba, CEO, TZoro IBC, said national development plans should support small- and medium‑sized enterprises (SMEs) and connect them with capital.

Cautioning that low‑skill and low‑education jobs “will soon be gone,” Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University, noted the need to upgrade education systems, especially in Africa. Providing the examples of “countless” jobs that are emerging in renewable energy, the retrofitting of buildings, the installation of solar panels, and the development of an electricity‑based transport system, he underscored that “there is no trade‑off between climate sanity and jobs.”

During a panel on ‘Shaping the Future of Work,’ Anniken Hauglie, Minister for Labour, Norway, said that, in order to ensure decent jobs for everyone, social dialogue and trust need to be maintained and renewed both in the private and public sectors, as well as between the two sectors. Angel Gurria, Secretary‑General, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), warned that women and girls continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and thus are more vulnerable to being “left behind” by innovation. He added that the lower skilled and middle class are at the highest risk of losing work.

Rob Acker, CEO, Salesforce.org, said 65% of the jobs children today will have when they grow up do not yet exist. Emphasizing the role of educational organizations in bridging the skills gap, he explained that quick repurposing will be needed in the new work landscape, and identified the need for multisectoral partnerships. Winnie Byanyima, CEO, Oxfam, called for governments to be “in the driver’s seat” in order to act as the equalizing force that the markets cannot be, adding that “we haven’t gone far enough in tackling extreme capitalism.”

Laura Ripani, Inter‑American Development Bank (IDB), stressed the need for new regulations at the international level to protect the human rights of people working for online platforms. She added that a positive aspect of digitization could be that more people will work from home and thus not travel to work, which will have a positive impact on climate. [Event Website] [UN Meeting Coverage] [Event Programme] [UN Secretary-General’s Remarks] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]


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