Secretary-General: We are not yet ready for evolving need to balance work leisure, other activities
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the International Labour Conference, in Geneva on 21 June:
You come together at this Centenary International Labour Conference during a time of profound turbulence and tests. Globalization and the fourth Industrial Revolution are delivering immense opportunities and daunting challenges. Tremendous economic gains at the global level have not been shared equally among or within countries. Those on the margins of our societies are paying the highest price. So is our planet.
More than ever, we need global responses to global challenges. Yet, more than ever, multilateralism is under fire. Our problems are becoming more complex, yet our responses are becoming more fragmented. And everywhere, we see deficits of trust and a surplus of fear-mongering. You could call it an age of disillusion.
The most effective way to rebuild trust is by listening and by delivering. The International Labour Organization (ILO) plays a central role for a simple reason: Your agenda is at the centre of people’s concerns. The dignity of decent work. A fair globalization. Social justice for everyone, everywhere.
Taking on such large and sweeping challenges is familiar territory for the ILO. It is part of your DNA. And it is the reason this Centenary International Labour Conference has hosted dozens of heads of State and Government over the last few days. Indeed, you have brought together one of the largest United Nations gatherings of world leaders outside of the opening of the General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
This is not only a testament to the relevance of your mandate, it is an affirmation of the power of multilateralism that you represent. As Director-General [Guy] Ryder said last week, this is a Conference of confidence — confidence in the capacities of the ILO and confidence to “construct a future of work with social justice for all”. I thank you for that.
You are carrying forward the torch that was lit 100 years ago to help build a new world — a world based on social justice founded on a model of inclusion with Governments, workers and employers at the decision-making table together. From day one, the ILO has been a trailblazer — starting with that unique tripartite structure.
In your first decade alone, the ILO established labour standards on a range of issues including: working hours, women’s rights, safety and health on the job, protections against child labour and forced labour and safeguarding the rights of indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. Many of these were topics rarely addressed in the corridors of power, yet the ILO forged ahead, with its constitution reminding the world that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it based upon social justice”.
In 1944, the Declaration of Philadelphia reinvigorated your mandate for the challenges of the post-Second World War world. The reformed Constitution captured the mood of the times. “Labour is not a commodity,” it stressed. “Poverty everywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere,” it boldly told the world. These principles represented the first instance of an international organization making the link between human rights and development, and paving the way for the adoption, in 1948, of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Decades later, the ILO was among the first to raise warning flags about the negative effects of globalization, through the 2004 Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization. This far-reaching call for building a fair globalization drew attention to the principle of Decent Work, which underscored the importance of the quality of work, not just the quantity.
That principle is now well-established in the policymaking arena — even in sectors beyond those related to employment. It is interwoven throughout the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and at the heart of development itself. And it is integral to our shared reform of the United Nations development system, which is fundamentally about delivering on the 2030 Agenda for people.
That means making sure the sum of our efforts is greater than the parts, through coordinated, results-driven action on the ground. And as we do so, we will continue to ensure that all mandates are fulfilled, with full accountability to your governing body and to our collective commitment to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. Put simply, for the ILO, the reform we are leading means recognizing the unique nature of your tripartite governance model and ensuring people everywhere that they can take full profit of your unique specialized expertise. I thank you for your support. The world needs a stronger United Nations development system. And the United Nations development system needs a vibrant ILO as a critical member of its family.
With this Conference, the ILO embarks on a new chapter. You are not just celebrating a centenary, you are building upon a legacy of achievement guided by the age-old vision of social justice through social dialogue and international cooperation. I congratulate you on adopting a Convention on violence and harassment in the world of work. And, of course, the ILO’s Centenary Declaration you will adopt later today marks a historic opportunity to open a door to a brighter future for people around the world. The Declaration is ambitious, setting out the basis for delivering the ILO’s mandate in its second century.
But, the Centenary Declaration is much more than a statement of wishes or intent. It proposes a shift in the paradigm of how we look at development. The well-being of people must be at the centre of economic and social policies, and we must devote special attention to those who have been left furthest behind, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, older persons, women and young people in vulnerable situations. The guiding principle in all our work is the promotion of human dignity. And decent work is synonymous with a life of dignity.
The Declaration also highlights the interlinked nature of our challenges. We cannot have a more equitable future of work without sustainability. And we cannot have a sustainable future for the world of work without an urgent and definitive response to climate change. Addressing the climate emergency is indeed the defining issue of our time. Climate action could create millions of sustainable jobs. Green business has proven to be good business.
But, climate change is moving faster than we are. We are risking a future with increased instability, inequality and poverty. That is why I am convening a Climate Action Summit this September in New York. We need to inject momentum into transforming our political and economic systems and meeting the targets of the Paris climate accord and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Declaration will help to do that, focusing minds, and keeping up the pressure. Our world is in a period of unprecedented change encompassing climate, demographics, technology, society and so much else. The world of work is profoundly affected by these factors. Those changes also offer exciting opportunities. But, they also generate fear, anxiety and a feeling of instability.
I welcome the recommendations of the ILO’s Global Commission of the Future of Work which fit seamlessly with the findings of my own High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. As we look ahead, we know new technologies – especially artificial intelligence — will inevitably lead to a massive destruction of jobs and a massive creation of new jobs. It is difficult to now foresee all these impacts, but it is clear that the future will require a range of new and different skills.
More profoundly — the concept of “work” itself is evolving. There will need to be a new balance in the relationship between work, leisure and other activities. We are not yet prepared for that. We need a massive investment in education, but also a different sort of education — an education
rooted in not just learning things, but learning how to learn, and an education that accompanies people through the years to ensure lifelong learning in an effective way.
We need a new generation of social protection for people. And we will need to mobilize Governments and all actors like never before. Classical forms of decision making will not often apply to a new generation of challenges that are moving at warp speed. Analogue policymaking won’t work in a digital world.
As the pace of change increases, we must re-imagine mechanisms for cooperation and governance, involving the private sector, the civil society and drawing in others with expertise. And the role of the partners of ILO is an essential one. It is here, once again, that even 100 years on, the ILO remains ahead of its time, bringing employers and workers into the decision-making process.