President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the official launch of the Global Commission on the Future of Work Report at the International Labour Organization’s Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.22/01/2019. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE / GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the official launch of the Global Commission on the Future of Work Report at the International Labour Organization’s Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.22/01/2019. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE / GCIS

As unprecedented changes in the world of work due to artificial intelligence (AI), automation and robotics reshape industries and jobs, a new report has recommended a human-centred strategy to cushion the impact of the new order. 

The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) global commission on the future of work, which is co-chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, says the pro-people agenda will be based on investing in people’s capabilities, lifelong learning, institutions of learning, and decent and sustainable work. 

The report was released on Tuesday following months of work by the commission, which was established in 2018 to explore new forms of work, the institutional ramifications of the changing nature of work, greater inclusivity and gender equality among other things in light of the advent of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0).

The launch also served as a precursor to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos where world leaders will discuss Industry 4.0 and how economies can make the most of the opportunities and challenges it presents. 

In its report, the commission presented a mixed bag of proposals, which it said should be “urgently” adopted by governments, employers and unions. 

The commission based its recommendations on three pillars. The first is to increase investment in people’s capabilities, particularly those needed to thrive in a carbon-neutral and digital age, with a recommendation to enable people to acquire skills, reskill and upskill.  

The second is investing in the institutions of work to ensure a future of work with freedom, dignity, economic security and equality. 

The last pillar seeks to encourage investing in decent and sustainable work and shaping rules and incentives so as to align economic and social policy and business practice with the people-centred agenda. 

Furthermore, the report included 10 recommendations, including a call for a living wage, lifelong social security and decent work, all of which remain elusive for SA, which has struggled to address a high unemployment rate and working poor population, with promises to implement a social protection policy failing to materialise for more than a decade.

Joni Musabayana, director at the ILO Pretoria office, said the report gave stakeholders in the world of work a clear framework on how to craft national strategies. 

“The key issue is how to ensure that technology works in the interest of people, we are starting to get clear answers. This era requires multilateral co-operation,” he said.

The commission has emphasised that the future of work abounds with “countless opportunities” that include major improvements in the quality of working lives, expansion of choices and an end to the gender pay gap and inequality.

In an interview with Business Day, University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor Tshilidzi Marwala said societies that fail to plan adequately for the interruptions brought on by technology will be in trouble. 

He said it is encouraging that the dialogue on the fourth industrial revolution has deepened locally.

“We are aware of the future and are making effort to prepare for it. For the first time, the president in the January 8 statement talked about machine learning, AI and the fourth industrial revolution.

“We also need to start asking if we have the infrastructure, robust education system, these are the issues countries will have to investigate and inform new policies to make sure we are not left behind,” he said. 

Ramaphosa is expected to launch the report at a gathering of English speaking African countries in Durban due to be held in March under the Africa Regional Labour Administration Council grouping.  

mahlakoanat@businesslive.co.za