Challenges of work in a new era

Globalisation has opened a new era for the economy, work and society; a time of turbulence and rapid transformation that creates unprecedented challenges. The world faces severe economic, environmental and social difficulties, poverty and inequality seem challenging to eliminate, and there is an upsurge in geopolitical tensions and an exacerbation of conflicts. The sense of insecurity is palpable. All this against a backdrop of a jobs crisis and a climate and environmental situation that, if left unresolved, could bring the planet to a socio-environmental collapse of unimaginable proportions.

The impact of the rapid spread of new technologies, incorporating new materials and processes, digitalisation, big data and the internet of things, artificial intelligence and robotisation in a context of globalisation; the growth of the young population in some countries and ageing in others; increasing migratory flows for economic, environmental or security reasons, in a context of inequality; the effects of the energy transition to mitigate climate change; the fragmentation of production processes, globally interconnected in global supply chains, which already employ 600 million workers; the proliferation of new atypical forms of employment-related to digital platforms, which respond to new market demands while expanding the gig economy, crowd working, uberisation and other forms of labour informality; and the changes in labour relations that all this entails are factors to be considered.

The solution to these challenges requires a multidimensional approach and a global agenda. Labour issues will not be solved without changes in economic, social and environmental policies. It also requires a medium and long-term perspective to define the future of work we want.

All countries of the world have committed to responding to the challenges of our time within the United Nations framework with a common Agenda for 2030: the Sustainable Development Goals, which seek peace and prosperity for people on a sustainable planet. There are 17 goals and 169 targets that include commitments to tackle poverty and inequalities of all kinds, promoting gender equality, decent work, protecting terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and making up the most transformative agenda that humanity has ever adopted in common throughout its history. But it is a plan that will only be fulfilled if civil society is demanding enough to civil society is appealing sufficient to hold governments to these commitments and responsible enough to act on them.

Many of the 169 targets directly impact working conditions and socially responsible labour relations by the business. Starting with Goal 1.1 ‘By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere’; for it will be impossible to avoid an income of less than USD 1.90 per person per day – the threshold of extreme poverty – if many of the 600 million workers in global supply chains have wages of less than USD 60 per month. Or Goal 1.2 ‘By 2030, reduce by at least half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions’; which implies halving in each country the number of working poor – which has grown with the crisis – by significantly improving their wages. Or Goal 1.3 ‘Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors’; which will be impossible to achieve if instead of reducing the enormous informality – 60% of workers in the world have no contract – new forms of informalisation of work proliferate with digital platforms that employ thousands of people without employment ties; since informality leaves people without social protection in situations of accident, illness, maternity, unemployment or retirement.

The SDGs are also an essential guide to guide the transition to a more inclusive economy to respond positively to the challenges of the future of work, as they include an entire Goal 8 dedicated to ‘Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’ with eight targets aimed explicitly at achieving decent work for all, starting with the eradication of child labour and forced labour and strategic guidance on decent work for youth. These goals are the way for prosperity to be achieved in an environmentally responsible and sustainable manner and reach everyone without exclusion, which is the only way to guarantee peace and coexistence. Because, as the ILO Constitution of 1919 states, almost a hundred years ago, there will be no lasting universal peace without social justice.

Joaquín Nieto

Director of the ILO Office for Spain


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