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Policy options to tackle global future of work challenges

Interview with Professor Damian Grimshaw on the future of work policy options from the ILO.
I’m Damian Grimshaw, Director of Research at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) What are the key challenges, Professor Grimshaw for the future of work and the ILO’s position on that?
So, key challenges: Number one, high and persistent inequalities.
This is a multi- ranging topic: there’s within country inequalities; in-between countries, there’s inequalities between rural areas and urban areas; between male, female; rich and poor. We’re as interested in wealth as we are in wage and income and self-employment income.
Number two: we’re very interested in the green economy. Again, this is double-sided. There’s problems of environmental degradation and how one shifts away from that, but also harnessing all the opportunities for investment in the green economy to avoid the kind of problems of climate change that we’re already seeing around the world.
Number three is technology: robotics, artificial intelligence, digital platforms. Digital platforms seem to be the new sort of global agencies for organising work around the world, and we’re watching those very, very closely. Number four is demographic shifts. So we’re very interested in looking at countries where they’re seeing aging populations, but also countries perhaps in sub-saharan Africa, were you’ve got a youth bulge and growing numbers of youth coming into the labour market. We need to do a lot more there in enabling transitions into work for their growing youth population. Thank you. How might work be better governed in the future then?
So at the ILO we strongly believe, it’s part of our constitution that we do things in a tripartite fashion, that means organising work with the voice and with the interests and opinions of governments, employers and trade unions. And of course they’re not always present and they’re not always capable in the way that one would imagine, so we also reach out to other organisations NGOs or society organisations and others.
But the spirit is still the same is bringing all stakeholders to the table because there are bound to be issues of conflict, contestation, tensions and those issues need to be voiced so having and the different stakeholders and their interests at the table is much better for conceiving of long term visions for investments, for skill development and for organising people’s livelihoods. But what we say for example to the minimum wage is that we look for a very effective and positive and constructive intersection between the statuary minimal wage for example and collective bargaining, and often build on that middle wage.
So what might the future look like will our jobs be replaced by robotics and artificial intelligence as some of the leading media headlines might have us believe? Well many will, but as we said in the global commission on the future of work, working for a brighter future which we published in February, we think that there’s much more we need to do and to understand about how jobs themselves will be changing so we if you see jobs as a bundle of tasks, we need to be much better I think at identifying which tasks might be replaced by artificial intelligence or by robots and to work with organisations so that those employees affected can recraft their jobs alongside these co-bots, these collaborative robots in ways that improve the decency of their work alongside this transition.
So it’s a huge transformation coming, all organisations are talking to us and governments talking to us about where should we be in developing skills, how should we go through this process of transition so it’s much more than simply job displacement, although of course there were also very worried it’s not only the technology is also moving into green industries, away from dirty industries so displacement effects, redundancy effects need looking at much more carefully so we’re doing a lot of work on proactive labour market policies to make sure that people have the sustained and supported transitions, which is also by the way why social protection is so important, it’s one of the key pillars of the ILO, it’s one of the four pillars for decent work.
Without social protection we find that people aren’t as willing to engage in transitions because it’s too risky, you don’t have the bottom line of income protection. From your expertise as a final question, what tips or advice might you give to labour activists, trade union organisers, community groups to help address some of those social protections for the future? So number one work together I think we need to be as encompassing as possible in thinking about which stakeholders have the information, have the reach and have their strategy, if you like.
The others to work with digital technologies so we’re doing we’re trying to do a lot of work now and my vision for the ILO would be that every worker would have on their phone and ILO app, you click on the ILO app that gives you your rights, as much of your responsibilities, as it gives you access to the different standards the ILO sets, but crucially allows you to type in there, you know if somebody worked a 60 hour week and you’re only paid for 35 hours there’s a way of us collecting that big data also which would be the fuel for us in the future to understand and analyse where the big problems of working conditions lie.
Thank you very much for your time Professor Grimshaw.

Watch the following video interview with Damian Grimshaw. At the time of the interview Damian was Head of Research for the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and now Professor of Employment Studies at Kings College, London. In this video, future of work policy options are considered, and the importance of tripartite social dialogue outlined.


What do you think about soft regulations for promoting a progressive agenda about the future of work?

  • What 2 or 3 key ideas do you have that allow workers to broaden the discussion on work and employment rights?

  • Are there any risks with the state ceding power to other agencies (both nationally and internationally) to promote soft and voluntary codes?

Share your views with co-learners by posting a few point sin the ‘comments’ box below.

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