The Future of Work is Over!

05, November

  By Jochem de Boer, Global Public Affairs Manager, World Employment Confederation   Finally! The Future of ...


By Jochem de Boer, Global Public Affairs Manager, World Employment Confederation


Finally! The Future of Work is over! But no panic: the new world we have entered is no terra incognita. It’s been on our radar for a while and now it is time to take the helm and navigate the winds of change. The International Labour Organisation recently adopted a new Declaration as a map for this journey. The key question is: does it offer any guidance for employers and HR specialists? I would argue that it does. Its starting point is an economic reality and urgency that HR specialists should recognise.


To mark its Centenary in June 2019, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) agreed to a Declaration for the Future of Work. With this Declaration the ILO closed a five-year programme that had gathered labour market experts and politicians from all over the world to hear their thoughts on the changing world of work, and their preferred policy response. A special Commission of high-level officials as well as social partners and governments from across the world were asked their advice and, based on these consultations, the Centenary Declaration was drafted and negotiated over the course of an intense two weeks.


So, what is this Declaration? What does it look like and what will it do in the real world?


In short, the Declaration is a joint political statement of workers, businesses and governments on what they feel is important for the labour market. By declaring these priorities at an international level, they consolidate and set the scene for a policy response. This means creating more research on how to deal with the priorities, exchange best-practice and identify topics for international standard-setting and the creation of international law. All of this will then feed into national conversations on how labour markets could or should be regulated.


So, what’s in it? In general, the Declaration brings good news. It clearly identifies diverse forms of work as a mean to deliver decent work. This might sound insignificant, but in the past the ILO was of the opinion that only one type of work should be promoted: the permanent, full-time contract. Labour market practitioners have long known that this was an outdated and irrelevant approach, but it took some time for the ILO to get with the programme. But now they have. Secondly, ample attention is paid to the need for an environment that is conducive to sustainable business growth. This had been simmering on the back burner in the ILO, but the Declaration has now placed it centre stage. Thirdly, much focus is placed on skilling and lifelong learning. This is most welcome as we know skills gaps are spreading fast and digitalisation is changing workplaces and the competences that are needed. Finally, it highlights the importance of managing labour market transitions. As such the Declaration delivers a clear recognition of the themes and priorities for which most Future of Work experts and employers’ representatives have been pushing.


So what impact will it have? The Declaration will be the key document driving ILO policy from now on. This means the key activities of the ILO – labour market standard-setting and capacity-building – will be based on this document. Emerging and developing economies receive a lot of support and resources from the ILO for setting standards and building labour market institutions in their countries. These activities will be increasingly fed by this overall global Declaration and vision for the world of work. This document will also trickle down to national and international discussions on future labour market policies, setting the topics for debate and shaping policy options for policy makers. Of course, deviation will occur at national level, but, policy makers will use this Declaration and comparable international documents to draft their legislative agenda, and to ensure that they  remain competitive with other countries.


For HR entrepreneurs and practitioners on the ground the Declaration means two key things. It shows the map that their national-policy makers are holding; a map which consolidates the expertise and positioning of many powerful labour market specialists and stake holders and should contribute to a strategic business assessment of policy-focus and regulatory change. Secondly it can support national conversations with policy makers and social partners and provide them with guidance as they explore this new map that they have been given.


To conclude, if you are wondering if this Declaration will save the planet and create everlasting world peace, then the answer is no, it will not. However, at a time when policy makers are providing more uncertainty, unpredictability and haphazard regulation, we should be glad that world leaders and social partners have found a common vision on  labour markets and are providing some certainty as to the direction in which  they should be moving. So let’s embrace it and make the most out of it.

About WEC

The World Employment Confederation is the voice of the employment industry at global level, representing labour market enablers in 50 countries and 7 of the largest international workforce solutions companies. The World Employment Confederation brings unique access to and engagement with international policymakers (ILO, OECD, World Bank, IMF, IOM, EU) and stakeholders (trade unions, academic world, think tanks, NGOs). Its main objectives are twofold: to help its members conduct their businesses in a legal and regulatory environment that is positive and supportive; to gain recognition for the positive contribution the industry brings to better functioning labour markets.

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