The future of work – a contribution to the ILO 100th anniversary

From 4 to 6 February 2019 took place in Bucharest / Romania a seminar about “The future of work – a contribution to the ILO 100th anniversary”, organized by CNS "Cartel Alfa" / F.N.CORESI (Confederaţia Naţională Sindicală "Cartel Alfa" / Fundaţia Naţională CORESI), with the support of EZA and of the European Union.

The main goal of the event was to introduce the Report of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work and develop a collectively endorsed joint declaration on the role of work and the labour market changes often not reflecting realities. The seminar enjoyed the ILO support on its 100-year anniversary and brought to the fore the Declaration of Philadelphia of 1944 whereby it was reaffirmed that "Labour is not a commodity!"

There were 53 representatives of workers’ organizations from Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Spain, Cyprus, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland (as guests), France, Portugal and Italy.

During the sessions of the seminar discussions focused on the following main themes:

  • The influence of actual political concepts and visions on the future of work
  • The future of work – how can we reach decent work?
  • The ethical dimension of work. The meaning of work today and in the future - ethical cornerstones for decent work from a religious perspective
  • Changes, findings and recommendations of the Global Commission on the Future of Work
  • Social Dialogue and the future of work in Europe
  • Decent work in the future worldwide and the role of the European social dialogue model

The ILO centenary is important because the activity of the organisation is important, stated Pierre Martinot-Lagarde, special advisor for socio-religious affairs of the ILO. The ILO has had many initiatives lately, among which the Global Commission on the Future of Work that issued a report on the topic. The ILO Global Commission is also trying to create a dialogue also among religious denominations.

A new social contract is required, one that should update the Declaration of Philadelphia.

Stemming from the proposals of the Global Commission, a Joint Centenary Declaration was subject of a debate and agreement during the seminar and the participants adopted the text by.

Piergiorgio Sciacqua, EZA co-president, urged to touch 4 key points when looking at the future: resource-associated work, the rule of law, the beginning of the new industrial revolution 4.0, religion- associated work.

Labour is crucial and human-centered and the major principles of labour must be re-centered, while the inalienable human rights principle should remain unchanged. The church is built on human-labour interdependence and the deeper the change, the more imperative it becomes to see to the workers' protection. The ILO centenary is not only about recognition of the efforts of the organisation, but also about the will to strengthen it. By strengthening local and global institutions, economic growth may be generated, and the actual challenges are connected to that. Pope Francis stated that the 3 major challenges in today's world are demography, the environment and migration.

On May 1st 2000, Pope John Paul II was speaking about globalization. We now see, in China, for instance, the exploitation of children and massive pay cuts. Peoples of the world must not be a tool, but a diver of progress. The teachings of the church speak about the global expression of work and the permanent vocation of solidarity. Sadly, the connection between politics-man-common good is no longer at the foundation of nowadays politics.

Throughout the seminar, participants highlighted that populism is strong in several countries and takes different forms. State authority is being questioned. The workers organisations' responsibilities mainly concern:

  • Austerity that is apparent at all levels
  • The deterioration of the working conditions. The middle class has become poorer though it is the class that makes the majority of voters and is more conservative
  • Rebuilding trust and job creation
  • Tailor social policies to the labour market conditions

In the frame of the seminar, labour was defined as human participation in the collective effort, man is therefore a creator. Work results in financial independence and creates a social connection – everybody works with the others and for the others, too. Work goes along with a superior and social value, each individual could find a place and a role. Also important is the purpose of labour, as the vision on work is given by the will to work. Child labour eradication is vital, because work hinders their access to education.

Participants tried to find answers to the following questions: What is a decent salary? Can anyone have a decent life for them and their families nowadays?

The answers consisted in the following variants: A decent salary is the salary that gives dignity to the workers and their families. Workers must work in humane conditions; they can be productive but in case they get sick they can no longer be efficient. There is a need for a work-life balance and for a collective resting day. Man is above the material things he produces and needs rest, leisure time. Digitisation, automation are realities and must be used wisely to turn them into useful tools and not let them entrap us.

The most dynamic and interactive panel was "The ethical dimension of work. The meaning of work today and in the future - ethical cornerstones for decent work from a religious perspective".

Religious diversity is closely linked to cultural diversity. With regard to The Future of Work, all countries share the following challenges: environmental issues, inequality and social justice, migration and technological revolution. The debate on ethics in a religious context involved the consideration of each of these aspects. The ethical dimension is present in all religions. Dignity also bears on the purpose of work. Work is based on the pillars of tradition, contemporary challenges and experience. Each of the pillars has a different weight for each worker or member of the community.  Miners from coal mines for instance declare mining is their purpose in life, but on the other hand, we must protect the environment and it is well known that coal mines and coal - based energy production are big polluters.

The representative of the Romanian Orthodox Church explained that at the level of the individual, the capacity to work, irrespective of the kind of work – either intellectual of physical – ends with the person. What does not end, however, is the capacity to love. On the contrary, human accomplishment is measured in the way the capacity to work reflects or is invested in the capacity to love.

The church is not a decision-maker in job creation, neither now or in the future. It militates for non-discrimination at work, decent working conditions, adequate pay, the right to rest and non-suppression of this right, by tempting the workers with additional pay.

New jobs emerge under the influence of the digital era. There are still sectors, such as transport, where the majority of workers are men, which creates gender-related pay gaps. The demographics are changing, the birth rate is low. Jobs for the middle class keep shrinking. Huge, global, multinational companies holding monopoly in some fields tend to grow even bigger. Large-scale unemployment is everyone's problem.

A study shows that more than 50% of people find work very important. Islam encourages work and production. The Quran also makes reference to work, such as honest work is better than begging. The message conveyed by the representative of the Islamic faith was that their community militates for prosperity for the entire society, for children not to have to work, for people to get closer in soul and not in the virtual world. Rather than build walls, we should build a big table for everyone to sit around together.

Given the mutations our world undergoes, it seems social peace is in danger.  

Trends show that the jobs in the service sector and agriculture will disappear in many countries, salaries are poor, money shifts more and more towards the pockets of employment agencies, not the workers. Laws are paper tigers, welfare services play an important role, migrant workers work more than local workers. Migrant men and women sometimes work more than 15 hours per day and during holidays. They find a support in religion. They are received differently in different countries. A workplace is a door to integration and migrants are rather reluctant to integration.

The representatives of the Protestant denominations stated that work is considered a value, it is not a penalty or a curse. A sin equals to being torn from God. Work is a source of permanent effort. From a Protestant perspective, the Sabbath or the resting period values the human being, adds to human value. Work helps developing cultural and educational abilities.

The Greek Catholic representatives identified several benefits of work, namely:

  1. Ability to cater to the daily family needs 
  2. Work keeps man safe from laziness
  3. Work renders the rebellious body submissive
  4. Work makes us able to help fellow people, to be charitable

Work is done in moderation, not as a means to gather assets.

Education, vocational training and their contribution to the acquisition of different skills and competence was an important point raised in the discussions. To be able to keep up with the required level, a worker must update his or her skills. Artificial intelligence is a reality but machines cannot replace man, they are made to serve their creator. 14 million jobs are forecast to disappear and around 30% of the current jobs will undergo changes. Work creates affinity with other work and the people around. Another essential feature of work is adaptability.

In the interactive part of the seminar, we tried to answer questions such as:

  1. Are we able to cope with the challenges of the future? Which are those challenges?
  2. What is the relation between religion/religious denominations and trade unions? 
  3. Which are the common topics for trade unions, the church and governments?
  4. What topics should be included on the MEPs agenda?
  5. Should the link between religion and politics be strengthened?

The participants gave answers that reflected the organisations they represented and their own experience:

  1. Every faith has an important vision and we found out that every faith has a specific approach. The world of work comes with a financial as well as a spiritual gain. It is important to formulate principles of ethics.
  2. Work on Sunday is a topical concern. The working week in Lithuania may be as long as 72 hours. Politicians go to church, but they do not abide by the rules of the church. They enacted laws against people and the right to weekly resting days. Migration is high in Lithuania. Working conditions are bad, jobs are not enough, so people chose to leave.
  3. Both the trade unions and church congregations are made up of average, every day people, the two are working together, they are not exclusive
  4. In every participant country, trade unions and the church have worked together. It is part of our reality. We are open to diversity of faith and diversity in union life, since the two types of entities launch a set of common values in the public space: rights, spiritual values, dignity. Cooperation helps disseminating these values.
  5. The dialogue between the church and trade unions should be furthered. The church plays an active role in building homes for the elderly, after they retire. It is our duty to enter in a dialogue with European politicians and discuss important topics. We can involve European trade union, European youthand European employer networks in social activity.
  6. Learning is a mutual process. Education and LLL are important, we need skills, critical thinking and all of that can be learned from school. Apprenticeship, job flexibility, part time jobs and fixed term contracts are slowing down the process.  

The debates continued with topics linked to international, European, sectorial and cross-sectorial social dialogue.

The EU legal framework promotes the development of social dialogue and collective bargaining. There are big economic and social changes and trade unions are not enough adapted to those changes. Social dialogue is not mandatory at global level. An important role is played by the ILO Conventions, international agreements, CSR.

The speakers pointed out several concerns regarding the labour market in the EU, globally, namely:

  • Jobs are polarized
  • Distribution is not linear
  • Drop in trade union membership rate
  • International capital
  • Precarious jobs

Migration involves several aspects: salaries are higher than they are in the country of origin, but on the other hand, they come with longer working hours, many times above the legal limit. The destination economies pay the migrants lower salaries than the locals. The concept of prosperity is different in the country of destination from the country of origin. In Belgium, there are many migrants, there is a cultural diversity and realities sometimes spur discrimination and xenophobia. The main discrimination is sectorial-vertical segregation. Gender pay gap is low, thanks to collective bargaining covering migrant workers.

The highlight of the seminar was the adoption of a joint declaration to be submitted to Pope Francis at the ILO Conference in June in Geneva, which will also be delivered by the representatives of the participating organizations.

The declaration gives voice to the will of the representatives of EZA member workers' organizations and the representatives of religious denominations regarding the future of work.

We deem the ILO centenary an opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental principles and values of the members. To that end, we consider that it is essential to establish a genuine social and environmental governance at all levels, the local, national and international levels, so that all actors may decide together on the essential options that will allow to put together social, economic and environmental justice.

In this context, we support the proposed human-centered agenda stemming in the work of the ILO Global Commission For the Future of Work, namely: strengthening people's capabilities to be able to gain access to jobs they choose freely, strengthening the institutions of work and developing macroeconomic and investment policies to reach these goals.

In the same time, we reaffirm the need to uphold and expand the International Standards of the ILO and to monitor them at national, regional and international levels. The ILO and its constituents must contribute to strengthening multilateral institutions for a social, economic and environmental governance based on human rights.

The participants identified several future actions:

  1. To militate together for the ILO to continue to represent a consistent voice of workers organisation, employers organisations and governments
  2. Will the European Parliament elections be concerned with the world of work? What are the perspectives to protect labour rights? Central and Eastern European countries are losing skilled workers. We need a common approach in the European Parliament's Committee on Employment.
  3. To militate together so that religious diversity in Europe could exert an influence in the ILO Conference from Geneva.
  4.  How to measure progress on the labour market and who is entitled to measure it? The various instances of social governance must be accompanied by specific debates in the member states, as well as at European level and within the ILO. We need an active involvement towards the creation of a tripartite mechanism that will enable us to reach a consensus.
  5. To militate together to establish a principle regarding the division of company profit as follows: 1/3 for the workers, 1/3 for the shareholders and 1/3 for investment.
  6. Identification of a solid foundation for the European Social Pillar that would eliminate disparities and provide real social protection.
  7. Lobbying by all decision-makers on free Sunday for all workers.
  8. Wide scale promotion of the Declaration adopted in the seminar and its international recognition