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Day 7: 108th International Labour Conference - Thematic Forum

ILC forum looks at how to shape technological change to promote decent work

Speakers at a thematic forum discussed how to manage the way digital technologies are transforming the world of work, so that they lead to the creation of decent work. The debate was held at the International Labour Organization’s Centenary Conference.

News | 17 June 2019
Photo album and video recording of the forum
GENEVA (ILO News) – How can we ensure that digital work will be decent work, and what should governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations do to shape the direction of technological developments? These are some of the issues discussed at a forum held during the Centenary International Labour Conference (ILC).

Moussa Oumarou, ILO Deputy Director-General for Field Operations and Partnerships, pointed out that humans created, and must control technology, including data protection and people management by algorithms.

“Moreover, technology can be used to increase productivity, reduce working time and drudgery, and improve labour market access,” he said.

Several speakers focused on the need to regulate new forms of work, as well as the issue of who owns data about workers, garnered on online platforms and elsewhere.

Parminder Jeet Singh, Executive Director, IT for Change, Bangalore, stressed that workers should have control of data collected about them and their work. “It is undeniable that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of owners of digital capital. It requires to be pulled back towards the rights of workers and other marginalized actors of the digital economy.”

Carlos Lopez, who was a member of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work, said, “What we are witnessing is the first-comers taking advantage of the fact that regulations are not coping with the tremendous amount of change that is coming. As a result, we have a way of conceiving production that does not correspond with the world unfolding before us.”

Several speakers said there could be optimism about the future, provided the right policies are adopted.

“The heart of the matter is the political economy,” said Amandeep Singh Gill, Executive Director, Secretariat of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. “So if the policy environment is right, then we will see easier transitions, we will see just transitions. But if there is political passivity, then we will have difficulty.”

Eric Manzi, Secretary-General of the Workers Trade Union Confederation of Rwanda (CESTRAR) said that from the point of view of trade unions, “All we want is that the technological changes should not mean doing away with regulators, or that the government and the employers no longer fulfil their obligations. We must follow the path defined in the concept of decent work.”

Hongren Zhu, Director-General of the China Enterprise Confederation pointed out that adapting to change meant a change of attitude. “The labour force can increase their ability to adapt to the new trends through training, upskilling and so on. For employers, they also need to change their attitude to adjust to change.” He added, “We are generally optimistic.”

May Makki, Research and Program Officer at the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), pointed out, “There is no guarantee that a digital job will be a decent job. So there is a need for better technology governance if we want to align the digital economy with sustainable development.”

Andres Ortega Klein, a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal Elcano Institute, spoke of a need to reform the social pact. “We are in a transition, which has to be managed, because of a decoupling in terms of career perspectives… which require new types of protection and security.”

The forum, entitled Technological pathways for decent work was held at the annual International Labour Conference, which this year marks the 100th anniversary of the International Labour Organization. The two-week Conference, which concludes on June 21, has a strong focus on future of work challenges.