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Commission: Put People First in Drive to Automate Jobs

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The world of work is going through a major transformation. Technological advances are creating new jobs and at the same time leaving many people behind as their skills are no longer needed. A new study by the International Labor Organization’s Global Commission on the Future of Work addresses the many uncertainties arising from this new reality.

The International Labor Organization agrees artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will lead to job losses, as people’s skills become obsolete. But it says these same technological advances, along with the greening of economies also will create millions of new jobs.

Change is coming

The co-chair of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, says these advances offer many opportunities. But he warns people must harness the new technologies for the world of work and not be allowed to control the future shape of work.

“In the 20th century, we established that labor is not a commodity. In the 21st century, we must also ensure that labor is not a robot. We propose a human in command type of approach ensuring that technology frees workers and improves work rather than reducing their control,” he said.

Ramaphosa says change is inevitable and will happen whether people like it or not.

“We believe that we would rather be ahead of the curve rather than behind it and get the developments that are unfolding to shape us and to lead us. We need to be ahead so that we can shape the type of world of work that we want to see,” he said.

Human-centered conversation

In its study, the 27-member commission has adopted a human-centered approach. At this time of unprecedented change, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder says having people at the heart of this debate is critical for achieving a decent future of work.

“I think people, families, countries around the world are indeed grappling with the challenges and the opportunities of transformative change at work and the ambition of our commission … is, in a very concise and a very clear, and I think above all an action oriented way to try to set out a road map of how we can indeed seize the opportunities and deal satisfactorily with those challenges,” Ryder said.

Ten recommendations

After 15 months of work, the commission has come up with 10 recommendations for attaining decent and sustainable work. They include a call for a universal labor guarantee to protect workers’ rights, an adequate living wage and a safe workplace.

The commission proposes social protection measures from birth to old age. It says technological change must be managed to boost decent work. It says the gender gap should be closed and equality achieved in the workplace.

Ryder says the report puts a heavy emphasis on life-long learning and the renewal of skills throughout one’s working life.

“With the rapidity of change being what it is at work today,” he said, “it is simply not realistic to believe that the skills that we acquire at the beginning of our lives in our education, what we tend to think of as a period of our education will serve us throughout a working life. I mean, the shelf life of skills acquired at the beginning is a lot shorter than working life is going to be.”

Ryder notes the future number of jobs or the future of employment will not be determined alone by the autonomous forward march of technology. He says that will depend on the choices of policymakers.

The commission study indicates it is reasonable to assume that humans and robots will be able to live in harmony with one another — if humans are put in control of the forward application of technology.



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