Future of work

Maximize risks and handle challenges of new technology

Speaking at a High-level International Conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, on digitalization, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, stressed the need to take control of our future of work.

Statement | Vilnius, Lithuania | 25 April 2019
Madam Commissioner,
Fellow guests,
Representatives of the social partners,
Dear friends,

Can I begin by thanking and congratulating the government of Lithuania on convening what I think is a very important conference; an important conference and a timely conference particularly from the perspective of the International Labour Organization, because, as I think you are all aware, this conference comes on the occasion of the ILO's Centenary, a Centenary which we have decided to devote not to our history, our shared history together of one hundred years, but to the future of work.

Mr. Minister, I think you said the most important thing of all. None of us should believe that the future of work is decided for us. It’s not waiting to happen to us. The future of work is what we will make the future of work and this is, I think, why this conference and the many other events taking place this year around the world are so important.

I looked at the title of this conference and I saw, of course, that it is devoted particularly to the questions of digitalization. And, we all know that digitalization will be one of the most important determinants of the future of work but, let's remember today as we focus on digitalization that there are many other factors as well, which will combine to create the conditions for the future of work. I think of climate change, this very dry European spring when fires seem to be threatening us, remind us that the fight against climate change is one that the world of work has to assume in the future.

I think of demographics which is also on the agenda of our conference. Most of us from Europe of course have to consider the questions of ageing societies. But if I were to be in the southern part of the globe, we would be talking about youthful societies where job creation for young people is a top priority. And so we have to see a future of work which is capable of handling human mobility, all these issues of migration which are also important here in Lithuania. And we have to think about the vitality of our social protection systems in the future.

And of course we have to think about the question of our collective future. Minister, you have underlined the need for regional and international cooperation. These of course are fundamentally important to the International Labour Organization. For many of us for many years I think, accelerating globalization, closer regional integration were the assumptions we made about our future. I'm not sure that those assumptions are so easy to make today. I think we have to wonder about how we make our international and regional cooperation work better in the future and I profit from being on the platform with Commissioner Thyssen to thank her personally and the European Union for the excellent cooperation that we've enjoyed in recent years.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me just say a few words about technology. Throughout the years, throughout the decades, throughout the centuries, the world of work has had an ambiguous attitude towards technology. A past Director-General of the International Labour Organization speaking even before the Third Industrial Revolution, said that humanity is torn between admiration for what technology makes possible, the fruits of human ingenuity, and a certain fear about what technology can do to our societies, and can do to our future of work. I think the President in her very important message made clear that what we have to do is to maximize the opportunities and to handle the risks and challenges that technology brings. The realities on the ground are always moving more quickly than our capacity as governments, employers and workers to react. And yet we have to prepare we have to anticipate the changes that are coming to shape them so that they produce the social results that we want, those inclusive and sustainable labour markets of which the Minister has spoken. This is very much the logic of the International Labour Organization’s decision to devote its Centenary to the future of work. We need to design the future of work.

The ILO's Global Commission on the Future of Work has produced a report in January this year with 10 very concrete recommendations which are designed to help all of us forward. At the national level, at the regional level, at the international level, in preparing for the future of work that we want.

This report contains what the Commission describes as a human-centred agenda for the future of work. It contains recommendations which I can basically summarize as being three types of investments. We need to invest in people and their capacities. That means preparing people for systems of lifelong learning, which rapid change in the world of work will require in the future.

We need to strengthen our social protection systems not because they are a brake on innovation and change but because they facilitate innovation and change and adaptability.

We need to invest as well in the institutions of work. Those laws, regulations, and bargaining processes that make sure that “labour is not a commodity” as the Constitution of the ILO reminds us. We need to see if our current labour market arrangements truly meet the needs and the realities of the world of work that is emerging.

And we have also to invest in the jobs of the future. We have to identify those sectors, those activities, which offer the greatest promise of decent work for the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

These are not small issues. They are not issues which are restricted to labour ministries or trade unions and business. These are the issues of society today, the most important issues of society. And I hope that through our Centenary, through the mobilizing effect that I believe this debate on the future of work is happening, that we will be able to offer some leadership in addressing these challenges of the future.

The ILO does not come to this debate from an academic or intellectual standpoint. It comes with a mandate. The ILO’s mandate is a mandate for social justice, social justice as the surest guarantee of peace in the world. These were sentiments established one hundred years ago. But I think, Mr. Minister, they are sentiments that still make sense to us today.

And I was reminded, in a recent Centenary event, of a statement by Franklin D. Roosevelt on his third inauguration speech when he talked about the task of his government at a most dramatic moment of history. And he said that the success that we have, will not be measured by how much we add to the abundance to those who already have much, it will be measured by what we do to ensure that those who have little today, have enough in the future. That's a pretty good way of saying what we have to do in this enormously important debate on the future of work.

Thank you to Lithuania who has been an excellent partner for the ILO in our Centenary and for many years. Thank you to our European friends and our international friends and to all of you for taking part in this most important event. I wish you success today and tomorrow. Thank you.