SA: Labour organisations urged to embrace technology

Worker and employer organisations need to embrace technology to reach those working in non-traditional and informal ways, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.

While technology has blurred the lines between work and private time, it can and should be used to expand choice and work-life balance, the President said on Friday.

“In the 20th century, we established that labour is not a commodity. In the 21st century, we must ensure it is not a robot,” President Ramaphosa said at the release of the “Future of Work” report of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Global Commission on the Future of Work in Durban.

President Ramaphosa and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven are co-chair of the 27-member Global Commission, whose report was first launched to the international community at the ILO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in January.

President Ramaphosa proposes a ‘human-in-command’ approach, which will ensure that technology frees workers and improves work, rather than reducing their control.

In addition to this, an international governance system for digital labour platforms to ensure technology works in the service of decent work is being proposed, the President said.

Investment in people’s capabilities, institutions of work and decent and sustainable work are at the centre of the report.

Under the first pillar, the commission’s first recommendation is for the formal recognition of universal entitlement to lifelong learning and the establishment of an effective lifelong learning system.

“If people are to benefit from new opportunities, they need to re-skill and up-skill throughout their lives,” said President Ramaphosa.

The second recommendation is to step up investments in institutions, policies and strategies that will support people through the transitions associated with changes in the world of work.

This is a proposal for establishing a Universal Labour Guarantee that would guarantee fundamental workers’ rights, such as freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and freedom from forced and child labour.

It would also include a set of basic working conditions, such as an ‘adequate living wage’, limits on hours of work, and safety and health at work.

A transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality was highlighted as the third recommendation under the pillar on people’s capabilities.

The report notes, for example, that women still perform three-quarters of all unpaid care work, and calls for policy change in this regard.

Under the second pillar, which calls for investment in institutions of work, the commission recommends all workers have an adequate living wage, maximum limits on hours of work and protection of safety and health at work.

Finally, the third pillar involves increasing investment in decent and sustainable work.

Under this pillar, the commission recommends investments in key areas that promote decent and sustainable work.

“In this regard, developing the rural economy and the green economy, as well as the provision of high quality physical and digital infrastructure, will be key,” said President Ramaphosa.

The final part of the report looks at what is needed to implement the commission’s recommendations.

The commission proposes that countries establish national strategies on the future of work through social dialogue between governments and employer and worker organisations.

“How we respond to the economic, political and societal changes that are upon us will be critical in the years and decades to come.

“Change is a great thing and it is necessary. We are optimistic that with the right approach, an approach that is proactive and inclusive, we can achieve what we set out in the report,” the President said.