Concept Note

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Purpose

The EESC-ILO Conference on the Future of Work will be held in the framework of the global consultation called by the ILO. Organised jointly with the EESC, the event will serve to identify the key challenges and opportunities related to the Future of Work in the EU context. In debating with EESC members, this event aims at providing input for future initiatives by the EESC as well as contributing to the ILO global initiative on the Future of Work. Drawing on the work of the ILO and the EESC, this Conference will ultimately strengthen the solid and long standing cooperation between the two institutions which share a number of values and principles.

Outcome of the Conferece

A background document and a Conference outcome document will be produced. The background document will be prepared in advance of the Conference by the ILO and sent to the EESC for review. It will recall the work already undertaken by the EESC in the respective thematic areas (including relevant EESC Opinions) and the corresponding ILO issues notes The background document would highlight the key challenges and help guide the Conference discussions. The Conference outcome document will present the most salient points expressed by the Conference.

Format

The Conference will be structured around the four thematic conversations proposed in the report of the ILO Director General. In addition to an opening and closing panels, a 2 hour session will be dedicated to each of the 4 conversations. In these 4 sessions, a panel involving ILO representatives, external experts and EESC members will precede discussion with the participants.

The opening session will involve high level speakers while the closing session will present the key outcomes of the Conference.

 

I. Session 1 : Thematic Conversation: Work and Society

The idea that work is crucial to achieving social justice presupposes a notion of the place and function of work in society. From the earliest times until today, the main purpose of work has been to meet basic human needs. Europe has achieved a high level of prosperity, solid welfare states and strong social cohesion through the progressive promotion of decent work which has been often characterized by a stable, full time and relatively long term employment contract. Yet, the prospect of a single job for a working life seems to become increasingly outdated in today’s world of work. Some see the beginning of a new area where work will become ever more flexible, short term and transient with workers being increasingly mobile spatially and functionally. This has implications for individuals’ identity and social relations which are often forged and maintained at the workplace. Another related aspect is the significance of work for individual self-realisation. For many in Europe, and especially for young people, work has to be more than a source of income. The progression of the social economy sector is an illustration of this “work-is-more-than-money” mind-set. Additionally, working people in the EU are increasingly diverse in their cultural background and so might well be their expectations related to work. This increased diversity in workers’ and employers’ situation and aspirations may have some direct implications for social cohesion in the EU. 

Guiding questions:

  • As the digital platform economy grows, work units become smaller and more dispersed, and locations more disconnected from communities what are the implications for the workers’ social network and identity?  Will new work patterns result in greater freedom and opportunity? How will these developments affect peoples’ inclusion in society? In particular how can social inclusion of already disadvantaged groups be ensured in such a world of work?

 

II. Session 2: Thematic Conversation: Decent Jobs for All

The ILO estimates that the world needs 600 million jobs in the coming decade in order to generate sustainable growth and maintain social cohesion. The three commonly identified sources of job growth in the EU include the green economy, personal care-related occupations and the high-tech/digital sector. Yet the capacity of the member states’ economy to create new jobs in these sectors - and beyond - is perceived as uneven, some countries having better prospects than others. The impact of digitalisation, automation and big data exchange on the world of work is highly debated, generating both hopes and fears. A key question is whether the impact of today’s technological transformation could inhibit rather that support the creation of jobs. A related question is the quality of these jobs that will be created and the risk of polarization on the labour market as middle-skilled jobs appear to be the category most at risk of disappearance and/or transformation. The answers to these questions are context specific and will ultimately depend on the way the transition will be managed, the way European enterprises will adapt to technological developments and on the policy and regulatory environment put in place. Yet it is expected that technological but also organizational and managerial innovations will become ever more important for Europe’s competitiveness requiring a high level of both technical and soft skills in line with labour markets’ needs. Finally, based on recent analyses on the impact of technological change which highlight a trend toward a concentration of the productivity gains being created, a key question is to address the distributional impact of innovation in order to avoid an exacerbation of job polarisation and income inequality.

Guiding questions:

  • Are current policy instruments capable of generating the jobs that are needed in sufficient quantity and quality? How can we steer technological innovation to reap benefits for all and how can the potentially negative job impact of technological innovation be cushioned for workers?
  • How can we manage the distribution of productivity gains while strengthening sustainable economic growth and job creation? Do we need a paradigm-shifting way of thinking about income distribution? What could be innovative workplace practices to enhance productive and innovative jobs?

 

III. Session 3: Thematic Conversation: The Organization of Work and Production

Globalisation and technological innovation have dramatically changed the way work and production are organized. Through cross border outsourcing and sub-contracting practices, supply chains have become increasingly global and the products we consume are often “made in the world”. This has resulted in considerable new openings for millions of people especially - but not exclusively - in emerging countries, but also in the danger of global competitive processes placing downward pressure on working conditions and workers’ rights. In Europe, in order to respond to business’ need for flexibility, most labour legislations foresee a diversity of non-standard employment contracts departing from the classic full time, open ended relationship. The concerns expressed by several stakeholders about the employment and income insecurity of workers in non-standards forms of employment have just been reinforced by the emergence of e-platform and apps connecting individual suppliers and demanders of services in a transient commercial relationship. Further, these forms of employment put to the test European tax and social protection systems which were conceived on the basis of standard employment relationships. Additionally, the “financialization” of the global economy characterized by the influence of financial markets over the real economy has direct implications for the world of work. The focus on high short-term returns to maximize companies’ shareholders value has often proved detrimental to both employment and business’ sustainability. One very concrete consequence of the 2008 financial crisis has been the chocking off of finance to viable projects and enterprises, affecting SMEs in particular.

Guiding questions

  • Are the benefits of an increased fragmentation of production unambiguous for business? How can business secure workers’ long term commitment in such unstable context?  In what ways does the changing nature of employment relations matter for workers and employers? How can tax and social protection systems adjust to these new realities?

 

IV. Session 4: Thematic Conversation: The Governance of Work

Despite the internationalization of the economy, labour market institutions, labour laws and welfare systems are essentially defined and operating at the national level. This has generated tensions in national bargaining processes, but it has also given rise to innovative cross-border social dialogue initiatives such as International Framework Agreements. Yet a global economy requires international labour standards and ILO instruments and principles are increasingly recognized as key components of trade and economic integration arrangements. For instance, most EU trade deals include provisions on the respect of ILO core Conventions and several of them refer to the promotion of decent work. At the same time, among the numerous existing corporate social responsibility (CSR)’s initiatives, many use ILO standards as a reference. Consultative structures such as the ones established in the context of Free Trade Agreements and multi-stakeholders’ platforms such as the Bangladesh Accord are interesting examples of cross-border actions aimed to improve working conditions and labour market governance in third countries. Additionally the potential of e-platforms and other internet based technologies to stimulate social partners’ dialogue and membership may not have been fully exploited. 

Guiding questions:

  • What is the place for national tripartite governance and social dialogue in a globalised world characterised by increasingly complex value chains incorporating resources from different countries and continents? How can workers and employers organizations strengthen their partnership including through the use of new communication systems?
  • How can the increased attention to respecting labour standards in globalised production chains be leveraged to improve standards globally? What is the role of the ILO in this?

 

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