“Our striving for something greater”
Almost 200 million people are looking for work worldwide, while automation sows fear of stagnating wages and disappearing jobs. A conversation with Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), about work and world peace, the
An in-depth conversation with ILO Director-general Guy Ryder.
W“Work gives you meaning and purpose,” according to Stephen Hawking. Sigmund Freud supposedly said that a fulfilling life consists of work and love. Why is work so important for humankind, beyond the mere remuneration?
Work has a crucial social function beyond just meeting material needs. Work must certainly meet material needs, but it must also respond to an individual’s quest for personal development and the instinctive desire to contribute to something larger than one’s own or one’s family’s welfare. The ILO’S Declaration of Philadelphia – adopted in 1944 – refers to the need to act to ensure that workers “can have the satisfaction of giving the fullest measure of their skill and attainments and make their greatest contribution to the common well-being.”
According to historian Yuval Noah Harari, gatherers and hunters worked only a couple of hours a day. With today’s digitization, in contrast, we are in danger of working around the clock. Is the history of human evolution actually a big decline in quality of life?
How does Harari know that they only worked a couple of hours a day? They may have spent days running after the deer without finding it … and Harari also acknowledges that in his book later on: quality of life and wellbeing have reached unforeseen levels because of the great technological progress that has taken place in the past few generations. Meanwhile, technology is making a great part of human labor redundant. Harari says … I see this kind of prediction less as a prophecy and more a way of discussing our present choices. If the discussion makes us choose differently, so that the prediction is proven wrong, all the better.
Next year, the ILO celebrates its 100th birthday. Many of its original goals,
like the 40-hour work week have been achieved – why is the ILO still needed today?
Key times of change, for better or worse, have followed war, economic turmoil or political crisis. We may again be entering such a period, and how the ILO responds will surely make a difference to whether the global economy meets our goals for rights, jobs and security.
The ILO and the League of Nations were founded together after World War I as an integral part of the peace process. The drive to create the ILO came from the urgent need to improve the appalling working conditions faced by many in the early decades after the Industrial Revolution …
… and with great success. Since 1919 there have been important changes in attitudes to work and in policies aimed at improving its quality. These changes have conditioned the ILO’S work and its impact in both industrialized and developing countries. In recent crises and their aftermath, ILO issues were central. If new formulations of international social justice, new ethical rules and new policy instruments emerge to guide the world economy and labor markets, the ILO’S goals must be at their heart.
One of the key features of the ILO is its approach of bringing together governments, labor unions and employer federations. Is this model here to stay or will it be challenged by changes in the nature of work?
At a time marked in many countries by increasing job insecurity, wage stagnation and new challenges from automation and the digital revolution, constructive labor relations are more important than ever. Through dialogue, governments, employers and workers play a crucial role in shaping a future of work that leaves no one behind. They can jointly decide what new technologies to adopt and how. They can contribute to managing transitions for displaced workers, help anticipate skills’ needs, develop education and training programs, and manage enterprise restructuring.
Two hundred million people don’t have work today. Meanwhile, full employment by 2030 is one of the UN’S sustainability goals, which requires 600 million new jobs in the next ten years, according to the ILO’S development agenda. How could that be possible?
That is a real challenge, making them green and decent is probably an even greater challenge. We are facing the twin challenge of repairing the damage caused by the global economic crisis and creating quality jobs for the tens of millions of new, young labor market entrants every year. Job creation will rely heavily on a healthy environment and the services that it provides.
What does this mean specifically?
24 million new jobs could be created globally by 2030 if the right policies to promote a greener economy are put in place. Service sector jobs will be the main driver of future employment growth, while agriculture and manufacturing employment continue to decline. Strong policy efforts must be undertaken here to boost job quality and productivity in the service sector.
What are the main obstacles to getting there?
Imbalances persist between skills offered and skills needed. While a few countries integrate environmental sustainability and skills policies, others have not developed or utilized their skills institutions to prepare for the green transition. To ensure a just transition to a green economy, the ILO recommends developing a legal framework and also dealing with social issues and decent working conditions in green sectors.
What does that mean?
Public voice and participation in decisionmaking must be ensured when environmental and climate change policies affect the world of work, and they must protect workers who are forced from their homes and across borders as a result of climate change and natural disasters. Workers and their families affected by climate change need social protection. The need for social protection systems will increase as temperatures increase, precipitation patterns change, and natural disasters become more common and intense.
The ILO received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969 because of its role in promoting peace through work. If there is less work in the future, do you expect an increase in social upheaval, especially if there is a high number of unemployed young people?
Youth unemployment is a major challenge, at least in the global south. We will have to integrate hundreds of millions of young people into the labor market. If we fail to act in light of this crisis, we will be destroying hopes for sustainable growth – and sowing the seeds of deeper social unrest in the world. Creating decent work opportunities, particularly for youth, will be essential to build lasting peace in countries emerging from conflict, crisis and disaster.
Guy Ryder, 62, has served as Director General of the International Labor Organization (ILO) since 2012. Originally from the United Kingdom, he has strengthened the role of the ILO in the G20 process, in cooperation with BRICS countries and with the G7+. The ILO has also launched new initiatives with the World Bank and advanced the agenda for humane working conditions. Ryder, who studied social and political science, has 35 years of experience in the world of labor and held the position of General Secretary of the International Trade Union Federation, among others.