News ID: 237731
Published: 1038 GMT January 22, 2019

ILO urges world leaders to guarantee workers' rights as robots cut jobs

ILO urges world leaders to guarantee workers' rights as robots cut jobs
Humanoid robots work side by side with employees in the assembly line at a factory of Glory, a manufacturer of automatic change dispensers, in Kazo, north of Tokyo, Japan.

World leaders have been urged by an influential United Nations agency to sign up to a universal labor guarantee to bolster fundamental workers’ rights, including adequate living wages and collective bargaining through trade unions.

Designed to address rapid changes in the workplace triggered by the rise of the robot economy and technological automation, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said a package of measures was required to put the world economy on a sustainable footing for the future, reported.

Calling on world leaders to support the policies at the start of the annual gathering of heads of government and business tycoons in Davos this week, the UN agency, which marks its 100th anniversary this year, said failure would risk “sleepwalking into a world that widens existing inequalities”.

It comes as fears grow over the impact of technology on workers’ jobs, pay and rights around the world, with automation rendering more roles usually done by humans obsolete.

The Bank of England estimates that rapid technological change could put as many as 15 million jobs in the UK at risk, while academics believe almost half of all workers in the US could be displaced by automation. Traditionally working-class jobs are among the worst affected, potentially raising inequality levels.

Some studies have suggested that advances in technology will create more jobs than will be destroyed, although they warn that governments must invest in the protection of displaced workers and retraining.

Co-chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, the ILO report is the culmination of a 15-month review by a 27-member commission of senior figures from the world of business, academia, trade unions and charities.

It calls for a universal labor guarantee that would enshrine the right to an adequate living wage, maximum limits on working hours and health and safety protections. It would also enforce freedom of association in trade unions and the right to collective bargaining, freedom from forced labor, child labor and discrimination.

Repeated attempts have been made to suppress trade union organization in the UK under successive Conservative governments since the late 1970s, while economists believe declining penetration of unions in the workforce may have contributed to a reduction in wage growth.

Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, has said falling levels of unionization have lowered wage growth by about 0.75 percentage points a year over the past 30 years, in a sign of the weaker bargaining power of workers.

Figures from the ILO show that Britain has seen the weakest real wage growth among the most advanced nations in the G20 over the past decade.

Elsewhere among the package of measures from the ILO are calls to strengthen social protection systems in countries around the world. Many nations already run welfare-state models, although more than half of the global population are unprotected, with others requiring further strengthening.

The ILO also called for improved policies to support reductions in gender inequality, from parental leave to greater investment in public care services. Women are paid about a fifth less than men around the world.

Other steps also include the creation of a universal entitlement to lifelong learning to enable workers to gain vital skills and retrain later in life. The report also called for an international governance system that would require gig economy platforms, such as Uber and Deliveroo, to respect certain minimum rights and protections for workers.

Löfven said, “Governments, trade unions and employers need to work together, to make economies and labor markets more inclusive. Such a social dialogue can help make globalization work for everyone.”

Ramaphosa said, “[The report] should inspire global action to contain or eliminate challenges that humanity has inflicted on itself in the course of history.”


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