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Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Launch of the Report of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work, Fairmont Zimbali Hotel, KwaDukuza

President of the Republic of Namibia and Chairperson of SADC, President Hage Geingob,
Director General of the International Labour Organization, Mr Guy Ryder,
Chairperson of the African Regional Labour Administration Centre Governing Council, Dr Sekai Nzenza,
Minister of Labour of South Africa, Ms Mildred Oliphant,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers, 
Representatives of the ILO and ARLAC 
Representatives of labour and business,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to South Africa and to the beautiful province of KwaZulu-Natal.

This gathering provides an opportunity to mark a number of significant milestones.

This year is the centenary of the International Labour Organization.

It is the 60th year of the ILO’s presence in Africa and the African Regional Labour Administration Centre is holding its 45th Governing Council.

This year, South Africa is celebrating 25 years of freedom and democracy – a democracy that was won in no small part through the sustained struggle of workers.

It was here in KwaZulu-Natal, in the nearby city of Durban, that a watershed moment in the struggle for worker’s rights took place in 1973.

After years of repression and illegality, a wave of strikes by black workers led to the resurgence of the independent trade union movement in South Africa, and gave new impetus to the struggle against apartheid.

It was black workers who bore the brunt of discrimination in the workplace. 

Working and living conditions were poor, and wages were even poorer. 

Job reservation kept black workers out of higher-paying jobs. 

Trade unionism was severely curtailed. 

In fighting against these injustices in the workplace, in fighting for their rights, the workers of Durban gave hope and encouragement to the broader struggle for national liberation.

This history – indeed the entire history of the anti-apartheid struggle – underscores the centrality of workers – of their rights, of their conditions of work, and of their general well-being – to the success and prosperity of any society. 

Our countries were built by the hands of hard-working men and women. 

Our collective fortunes depend on the creation of a society where every human being is accorded dignity both through, and in, work.

We are seeking to build a world where work does not result in the commodification of the human being, but in a higher standard of living, protection of rights, and the possibility for advancement.

It is a world where men and women in the workplace are equals before the law and protected from prejudice and injustice.

It is a human-centred society anchored in the principles of social justice – the vision of the International Labour Organization.

This year, the ILO begins its second century of advancing social justice in the world of work and in furthering its mission to promote jobs and protect people. 

As nations of the world, we have made important progress in furthering the ILO’s mission. 

Many of the advances of the past two centuries in the world of work – be it raised wage levels, improved working hours, unemployment insurance and other worker benefits – have been thanks to the international labour standards and social protection set by the ILO.

All this has come about because of the implicit recognition that decent employment is inextricably tied to peace, prosperity and progress in the world. 

To borrow the words that Martin Luther King Jnr used to describe the labour movement in the United States, the ILO has been a force that has transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. 

It has been a vital instrument for the good of working people the world over, and brought decency, dignity and pride to the workplace.

However, and despite our advances, the world we live in today faces a number of challenges. 

Inequality is rising. 

Millions of people around the world are in a working poverty trap. 

In many societies, working people still labour in antiquated working conditions that have little regard to their rights, with forced indenture and even forms of servitude and bondage common.

Elsewhere, rapid technological advance has had its own consequences for workers and communities, with digitisation and mechanisation of work processes giving rise to increased insecurity and job losses. 

The impacts of globalisation, demographic shifts, trade and other forms of protectionism, and climate change are bound to have consequences for future work processes.

It is the question of how to manage and harness these forces currently transforming our world that has given impetus to the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work. 

In drafting the report, we have chosen not to single out technology ahead of all transformative forces.

We have instead focused our recommendations on what needs to be done to create the best future for the greatest number of people in a fundamentally different world of work. 

The report’s findings are informed by dialogues between government representatives, employers’ organisations and trade unions in more than 110 of the member states of the ILO. 

It speaks to the need to put people at the heart of economic and social policy and business practices.

Our starting point was this: dynamic forces are transforming the world of work. 

This offers remarkable opportunities, but also challenges. 

If we are to harness these changes for our benefit, rather than be shaped by them, we need a new approach.

The Global Commission’s report proposes 10 recommendations, grouped into three pillars. 

The pillars are:

• firstly, investing in the capabilities of people;
• secondly, investing in the institutions of the world of work;
• thirdly, investing in decent, sustainable work.

When we talk about investing in the capabilities of people, we mean more than simply investing in human capital.

We recognise that it is necessary to consider human development more broadly – dealing with factors such as rights, access and opportunities.

If people are to benefit from, rather than be constricted by, new technology, they need to re-skill and up-skill throughout their lives.

We propose formal recognition of a universal entitlement to lifelong learning, and the setting-up of related systems – funded by reformed ‘employment insurance’ or ‘social funds’.

A strong lifelong learning system will enable workers to assume responsibility for their own learning and skills, will encourage them to take the time and risk to train, and help employers find the workers they need.

We also need more support for work transitions, both through different stages of workers’ careers and when they move between types of work.

Gender equality must also be made a reality through taking transformative, measurable steps. 

This includes more gender-balanced measures around child care and family responsibilities; more transparency in pay, including mandatory reporting; eliminating violence and harassment in the workplace; and specific measures to ensure equal opportunities, particularly in the technology sector.

Underpinning all of these we recommend universal, life-long social protection, including a basic social protection floor, complemented by contributory social protection schemes. 

We recognise this will require a re-allocation of public spending.

Our second pillar is increasing investment in the institutions of work.

This extends to institutions, systems and regulations. 

We propose establishing a Universal Labour Guarantee that would guarantee fundamental workers’ rights, such of 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. 

The guarantee would create a starting point from which to build labour market institutions appropriate for the 21st century world of work.

In addition, we propose new measures on ‘time sovereignty’, to give workers greater control over the hours and times they work, while meeting the needs of business. 

Technology has blurred the lines between working and private time, but it can – and should – be used to expand choice and work-life balance.

Workers’ and employers’ organisations need to embrace technology to reach and organise those working in non-traditional and informal ways.

In the 20th century, we established that labour is not a commodity.

In the 21st century, we must ensure it is not a robot. 

We propose a ‘human-in-command’ approach, ensuring that technology frees workers and improves work, rather than reducing their control. 

In addition we propose an international governance system for digital labour platforms to ensure technology works in the service of decent work. 

The third pillar of our human-centred agenda is investment in decent and sustainable work.

We must increase long-term investment in areas that support the transformation we want, favour human development and protect the planet. 

Targeted private and public sector investment, coupled with the right technology, can create millions of new, decent, sustainable, jobs in the green economy, the care economy, infrastructure development and rural areas.

Our final recommendation involves reshaping the incentive structures that guide business activity, so they encourage long-term, responsible investment in the ‘real’ economy. 

This would include adopting additional indicators for measuring progress, because GDP alone is an insufficient indicator of success. 

We need broader measures that capture environmental impact, unpaid work, equality and other aspects of human well-being.

We recommend changes in corporate governance and conduct such as an extension to stakeholder representation, to make companies more accountable, and the creation of incentives for a longer-term outlook on success. 

It is also important that workers should play a greater and more active role in the governance structures of the companies in which they work. Experience has shown that when this is done, there are positive benefits on a number of levels.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This report is not exhaustive and is really opening the door on what we hope to be a bigger conversation around ensuring the principle of social justice is advanced in the world of work. 

It is work in progress, and does not propose quick-fix solutions to what are really both pressing and complex challenges confronting the world of work. 

This report is the fruit of the labour of a great many people, from governments, to worker organisations, to business, to NGOs, to regional, continental and international bodies. 

We thank you for your inputs, which have been valuable as they have been insightful.

I want to thank representatives from the African Regional Labour Administration Centre for their presence here today, as well as the representatives from other bodies in the SADC region. 

As Africans are proud that this launch is taking place on a continent that has played such a formative role in the genesis of the global labour movement.

I want to applaud my co-chair, the Prime Minister of Sweden, Mr Stefan Löfven, for his support and stewardship during this process. 

I also extend my gratitude to the Director-General of the ILO, for his steady hand and leadership given to the process.

It has been a privilege to work with a group of experienced and accomplished colleagues in carrying out the Commission’s mandate.

Change is a great thing, and it is necessary. 

And although it does not have to be, it can sometimes be frightening or overwhelming. 

But we are optimistic that with the right approach, an approach that is proactive and inclusive, we can achieve what we set out to. 

The onward march of globalisation has meant no single problem is one country’s alone. 

It is in keeping with the spirit of these very interconnected times that we will continue to promote multilateralism and cooperation on forums such as the ILO – as the best and only way to prepare our countries for the world of work of the new century.

As it is said, the narrowest thread, when sufficiently multiplied, will form the strongest cable. 

And a single drop of water, though a weak and powerless thing, when united by the force of attraction, forms a stream; combined will form a river; and then a mighty ocean.

Unity of purpose and of action is the mainstay of the ILO. 

Working together we can harness change and all that it brings to take our respective countries into a bright new future.

A future of security and equal opportunity for every working man and woman. 

A future of prosperity and justice for all.

I thank you.