THE ILO INITIATIVE FOR THE FUTURE OF WORK
Maria Luz Vega
Coordinator of Future of Work Initiative, ILO
Special Advisor to the Deputy Director-General, ILO
Significant changes have occurred in recent years in the world of work and are likely to
continue, and potentially intensify. They all question the effectiveness of labour law and
the labour market institutions, as well as the real scope of social protection and the
functioning of industrial relations’ systems.
Changes are broad and profound. Driven by massive and continuous technological
changes and by the existence of new demographic scenarios (displacements, age
pyramid), the world of work is convulsed and at an evident cross road. Global economic
growth slow down, and disparities in the workforce, remain striking. A large population
continue to work in extreme poverty, particularly in low-income countries; and new
types of contracts and non-standard forms of work are increasing in all countries,
creating new types of discrimination and vulnerability. Social protection systems are
unable to respond to these profound changes and to ensure adequate levels of protection.
Rule of law is frequently broken, as the way work is organized is increasingly global
with growing use of sophisticated technologies (e.g. crowdwork).
Environments in which work is undertaken are also changing rapidly. On an individual
level, inadequate balance between private life and work life modify our way of living
and bound the way of performing work, seriously affecting mental and social health.
Challenges also come from climate changes, such as heat waves, Co2 emissions, floods
and droughts, and the on-going degradation of water and food security. As stated in the
Paris Agreement COPP 21, “the right to health in all environments” calls on countries to
develop adaptation plans that will protect human health from, for example, the annual
toll of more than seven million deaths worldwide attributable to air pollution. And most
of these deaths are related to work.
Yet in responding to these challenges, policy-makers confront novel features of working
life and governance: the urgent need to secure employment-led paths to economic
development, intensifying downward pressures on working conditions and the
challenges of establishing floors of minimum social protection and labour conditions,
the internationalization of production through Global Value Chains (GVCs), and the