A future of work for human beings, not human capital

The inspiring report of the Commission on the Future of Work has been released It strives to humanise the economy, build social justice and peace, reinforce democracy and mute the siren songs of authoritarians.

The Commission on the Future of Work describes their report as “the beginning of a journey”. The key question before beginning any journey is “where do you want to go?”. Although the report is not detailed, the destination is clear.

The Commission addresses the complex issues of the future of work with an approach that would easily have gained a consensus a century ago when the ILO was founded, but seems radical, if not revolutionary today. It is about human beings, not “human capital”. The will and the interests of humans should determine the future of work.

There is a sense of inevitability in too many discussions of the future of work, including, for example by the World Bank in their 2019 World Development report. For workers, at best, proposed protection  in those discussions has been limited and on the margins; burial insurance for the bodies removed from the battlefields of globalisation.

In the last 40 years, the global economy has been on auto-pilot. That has fed public alienation, apathy, and powerlessness. The American philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. Desperate people, often paralysed by fear and without hope, cannot be actors in or agents for change.

Without action to correct the course of the global market, “we will be sleepwalking into a world that widens inequality, increases uncertainty and reinforces exclusion, with destructive political, social, and economic repercussions” according to the Commission.

The report challenges the idea that the future of work must be determined by anonymous market forces and market actors combined with unguided technology that digitally reproduces the past, Rather, it sees changes in work organisation as opportunities for social justice, greater equality, and good jobs.

The Commission, in its approach to education and life-long learning, goes far beyond skills training to education that combines “foundational skills, social and cognitive skills (such as learning how to learn), and the skills needed for specific job, occupations and sectors”. Lifelong learning also, “involves more than the skills needed to work, it is also about developing the capabilities needed to participate in democratic society.”

Education International General Secretary David Edwards, reacting to the report, said, “The work of the Commission on the Future of Work is a breath of fresh air. It addresses many concerns of education workers, including precarious work and the need for employment relationships, comprehensive social protection, decent work, well-being on the job, and persistent gender inequality and exclusion. It proposes to change that in future employment rather than locking in past practices. It also calls for intelligent and deliberate deployment of technology, including artificial intelligence, protection for the rights to organise and bargain for all workers, and effective social dialogue to enhance the quality and dignity of work.”

Edwards continued, “we enthusiastically support the call of the Commission to use the report as the basis for cooperation and coherence among multilateral institutions, including UN agencies, the World Bank, the WTO, the IMF, and the OECD.”

“It can also serve as a tool to redirect public outrage to making things fairer and away from brutal attacks on natural allies. Effective action can change the balance of power, disable public cynicism and shore up threatened democracies.”

You can access the interactive report by clicking here.

The Commission unveils and presents its report at a ceremony on Tuesday, 22 January, EI is represented by Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary Emeritus, who will be available for questions..

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