On 19 February, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a debate with the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the future of work and the European Pillar of Social Rights, with the purpose of exploring further avenues for cooperation and stepping up efforts to make the rapidly changing world of work fair, decent and inclusive for the generations to come.
The debate was held in Brussels at the plenary session of the EESC, the EU body representing Europe's civil society. The EESC welcomed the ILO's Director-General Guy Ryder, who presented the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, which was adopted by the International Labour Conference in 2019, the year that also marked 100 years of its existence
In his welcoming remarks to Mr Ryder, EESC president Luca Jahier congratulated the ILO on its 100th anniversary and its decades-spanning outstanding role in the service of social progress.
"Let me also applaud the ILO's great achievements on the Future of Work Centenary initiative. The ILO has enabled rich discussions on the future of work and the society we live in," Mr Jahier said.
He also stressed the EESC's engagement in the ongoing discussions on the future of work.
The EESC has always said – and has been heard at the highest levels – that the issues related to the future of work should be a key priority for the EU to ensure sustainable growth and prosperity in Europe, Mr Jahier said.
Addressing the plenary, Mr Ryder said that the ILO had set itself the task of working out how to shape a future of work in accordance with our values. Current circumstances warrant even greater efforts, as uncertainty and increasing disillusionment with established policies and policy-makers, as well as fear and reticence remain predominant sentiments when people consider their futures at work.
The Declaration calls on the ILO and all its Member States to put people and the work they do at the heart of economic, social and environmental policies. It calls for human-centred policies to shape the future of work, with a focus on economic security, equal opportunities and social justice, Mr Ryder maintained.
The Declaration rests on three pillars of action covering, among other aspects, lifelong learning, gender equality, ensuring and investing in the decent and sustainable work of the future, as well as universal access to social protection, which is today denied to three quarters of the global workforce.
The Council of the EU has already adopted the conclusions to implement the ILO's Declaration, which – according to Mr Ryder – in itself set an extensive agenda for ILO-EU cooperation in the years ahead.
Mr Ryder said the Centenary Declaration bore many similarities to the European Pillar of Social Rights. The two are also in line with the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.
According to him, "the Pillar's 20 principles are aligned with the values and normative framework of the ILO." The two are at the same time "the products of decades of shared values and cooperation, and an incitation for us to work even more closely together in the future".
Mr Ryder put a special emphasis on developing an EU framework for minimum wages and minimum incomes and on collective bargaining, where the EESC could make a valuable contribution.
I believe that your Committee has a pivotal role to play in assuring that collective bargaining and social dialogue remain indispensable tools of the European project," he said. "Fully protecting the place of collective bargaining in the determination of wages and other terms of employment is crucial.
Now that the Pillar has been made an integral part of the new Commission's ambitious growth strategy – the European Green Deal, Mr Ryder also emphasised that the transition to carbon neutrality in 2050 must be just, credible and inclusive.
Many people worry about getting to the end of the month more than about the end of the planet. This is why we must make the transition credible at the level of social justice; we must not leave the people behind. It is not about designing the future for people, but with them, he said, adding that he believed the EESC was ideally positioned to do the "engineering work" of the just transition.
Mr Jahier spoke about the EESC's multiple contributions to help improve the implementation of the Social Pillar, put forward in several recent opinions. It was also preparing to work on the new Commission's proposals that should further implement the Pillar, including on decent minimum wages, skills agenda, platform work and others.
"It therefore makes sense for us to intensify cooperation between our two organisations. Possible opportunities that come to mind could be the EESC opinions on ILO conventions setting global employment and social standards or cooperation regarding relations with non-EU countries," the EESC president concluded.
In an exchange of views between EESC Members and Mr Ryder, the president of the EESC's Workers' Group, Oliver Röpke, said:
The key question in the 21st century remains how we can ensure that the future of work delivers fair opportunities to all in a global economy radically changed by free trade and deregulation, climate change and digitalisation.
Speaking on behalf of the EESC's Employers' Group, Stefano Mallia said:
Implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights should be about demonstrating that the EU and Member States are capable of delivering proper responses to the challenges we are facing. This must be done in full respect of the division of competences and the principle of subsidiarity.
Giuseppe Guerini of the EESC's Diversity Europe Group spoke about the importance of the social economy, which was also broached by the ILO.
The economic sustainability of work depends on our ability to give work to all, Mr Guerini maintained.
Shortly before the plenary session, the EESC's Vice-president for Communication, Isabel Caño Aguilar, opened the exhibition on "100 years of Social Protection with the ILO". The exhibition celebrates the ILO's centenary and explores the establishment and evolution of social protection systems around the world since 1919.