Decent jobs for all

11 Apr 2017 02:00h

Event report

A significant portion of the second session of the International Labour Organization (ILO) conference – The Future of Work We Want: A Global Dialogue – focused on the future of the working force, which will have a different view on what will be considered a ‘decent’ job and the different steps we need to begin to take today to prepare for this change.

Similarly to in the first session of this conference, the progress of technology was the main topic in leading change for the future. Mr Eric Manzi, CESTRAR, Rwanda – workers representative, discussed the priority we should place in preparing the youth to face these technical changes, as they will be required to constantly adapt as technology continues to change at a faster rate. We should not be afraid of the advancement of technology, as each time there has been a revolution it has gone hand and hand with a phobia. It is true that in the past, these revolutions have caused short-term job loss, yet they have forced creative productivity, which has lead to the creation of more profit and therefore contributed to the well-being of workers. It is important that we face this digital revolution together, as there will always be inequalities. The only way to fight them is with solidarity at a global level.

Mr Mthunzi Mdwaba, TZoro IBC / Business Unity South Africa, South Africa – Employers discussant, agreed with Manzi, suggesting that we need to learn from history and not face this digital revolution in fear. Innovation and technology have been around for a significant amount of time now, but as technology evolves at a faster rate, we do not have as much time to adapt as we did in the past. It is essential that the education of the youth keeps up with the skills and training needed for them to become part of the future working world. Prof. Cai Fang, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also spoke about the importance of universities changing the way they prepare the youth to enter the work force. Universities should be focused on preparing young people to build cognitive knowledge, as this will drive the ability for people to evolve with the transformation of jobs; this type of knowledge is what will keep humans superior to robots within the labour market.

Prof. Richard Freeman, Harvard University, also discussed an advantage that humans have over robots while speaking on the current state of the job market; there is no shortage of jobs, but a shortage of good quality jobs. Right now it is cheaper to have a human moving the pieces for a machine than it is to build a new machine to do that; though this is an advantage that humans hold, it is a low quality job. People will always be able to compete with robots if they continue to take low enough wages, thus decreasing the quality of work. Prof. Xiaolan Fu, University of Oxford, China Centre, shared a positive view on the structural change that is coming with the changing distinction between high and low quality jobs; the jobs that will be replaced by robots will be the repetitive jobs that are considered low quality. She believes that the creation of new industries will come of this change and we will see a movement across the world in an increase in skill and creativity. While the number of jobs created will be less then those lost, the quality of jobs will increase significantly at a global level.

Fu also spoke in the debate on whether or not the taxation of robots would help slow down the evolving world of technology and force an improvement in inequality globally. She does not believe that the taxation of robots will do any good as this would result in ‘winner and loser picking’; all businesses should pay more taxes, which will motivate those businesses to invest in more technology and since humans are the creators of technology, they will be able to control the kind of technology progress we want. Freeman agrees with Fu that the taxation of robots will never happen; as a fight between capital and labour will not lead to anything. He discussed the importance of the incentive and motivation that workers get when they have a stake in a company; when labour and capital work together, there is an increase in income as well as better structure or redistribution.