As the ILO marks its centenary amid unprecedented technological transformation and disruption in the labour market, India has said the fourth industrial revolution will add unpredictability to the future of work, requiring people’s opportunities and well-being to be localised and re-examined.
"Anxiety about the impact of technology on the world of work is not new. The question of how technology shapes work and labour and how society should shape technology through choices and policies, has always fuelled intense public debate,” India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador K Nagaraj Naidu said on Thursday.
Addressing the high-level plenary meeting to commemorate the 100th anniversary of ILO’s establishment, Naidu said the change has always been a constant factor in the working lives of humans - from creating fire to sending a red sports car fly by planet Mars.
“However, the fourth industrial revolution characterised by its convergence of the physical, digital, and the biological worlds will add the dimension of unpredictability, because this time around the speed and spread of technological advancement will be unprecedented,” Naidu said.
In order to ensure a secure future of work with dignity, economic security and equality in a carbon-neutral digital age for people, Naidu said the broader dimensions of development, including the rights and enabling environment that widen people’s opportunities and improve their well-being will need to be localisd and re-examined.
“Automation potential must be distinguished from automation adoption. While a high number of tasks might be technically automatable, the adoption of particular technologies will depend on a complex interplay of factors including the cost of labour; levels of education and skilling; legal frameworks for innovation; labour protection policies; the availability of supporting infrastructure; and the social and cultural norms that shape attitudes towards technological change and innovation,” he said.
Marking ILO’s centenary, the Global Commission on The Future of Work issued a report, which Naidu said is an important milestone as it calls for a “human-centred agenda” for the future of work that strengthens the social contract by placing people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice.
India was a founding member of ILO and has also been a permanent member of its Governing Body since 1922.
Naidu told the high-level meeting that India has more than 50 per cent of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35.
"These demographics have made education and decent work a highly connected and key priority,” he said adding that a comprehensive education program has been launched to improve the effectiveness of schools and provide equal opportunities to all.
Several government initiatives in the area of start-ups, digitization, skilling and financial intermediation through specialized banks to fund the SME sector are aimed at promoting entrepreneurship, fostering creativity, innovation and encouraging inclusive business.
In an “innovative outreach,” an imposing mural on the side wall of India’s Permanent Mission to the UN depicts a multi-pronged theme of environmentally sustainable green jobs, Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, the International Labour Organistion’s centenary celebration and India leading the global greening effort as documented recently by NASA.
The mural created by the prominent artist Victor Ash shows a gigantic weightless astronaut floating in space and looking at earth to find that the world is a greener place than it was 20 years ago and India is amongst those countries that have contributed a significant measure to this increase.
This was also corroborated by recent data from NASA satellites. A green future also offers abundant opportunities for green jobs, Naidu said.
Addressing the centenary celebration of ILO, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the agency was born out of the rubble of the First World War, as the victors met to draw up the Treaty of Versailles, where they affirmed the need for social justice in the service of a “universal and lasting peace”.
ILO has been “a trusted voice” to “ensure social justice in every corner of our world”, Guterres said at the high-level meeting to commemorate the centenary of what was the first ever United Nations agency.
The UN chief painted a picture of a time of upheaval, when newly-emboldened labour unions in many parts of the world, demanded fair treatment, dignity at work, adequate wages and an eight-hour working day.
“The nations of the world knew they must cooperate to make it happen,” Guterres said, adding that despite being the oldest UN family member, “ILO remains to this day one of the most unique gathering spaces in the international system”, as well as “a source of strength and legitimacy”, where workers, employers and governments can seek solutions through dialogue.
Noting that now is “a time of profound uncertainty, disruption and technological transformation,” Guterres warned that “tremendous” labour market disruption lies ahead.
“Even the concept of work will change – and the relationship between work, leisure and other occupations,” he said. “We are not yet prepared for that.”
Since the digital economy operates in a world without borders, he stressed that “more than ever”, international institutions “must play a vital role in shaping the future of work we want.”
As part of the commemoration, a 24-hour marathon of events from Fiji to Philadelphia has been planned across the globe.