Ten for the future

Plenary meeting address Kris De Meester, Employer delegate Belgium, 108th ILC Building a future with decent work 2019

No Guarantee – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
We don’t guarantee
Any work caused by or arising out of the failure of the owner
to comply with the instructions or recommendations
We can give you peace of mind
We can give you love
We don’t guarantee


I would like to thank the Director-General. Not for his report this time since it’s the report of the Global Commission on the Future that is tabled this year. But I thank Guy Ryder for allowing me, for allowing all of us to reflect upon it.

So I decided to come up with my own “ten for the future”, my ten recommendations for working in the future. WORKING IN THE FUTURE, there is no future of work, no going from A to B but a constant evolution with governments, organizations, business, workers, individuals at different spots of progress on an imaginary timeline.


So here come my 10 recommendations.

  1. The task ahead

Don’t try to plan exactly and decide what we all should do to shape working in the future. The reality is not a revolution but a constant evolution demanding all of us to be agile in a joint effort to create sustainable enterprises to achieve prosperity and decent work for all. That task did not become harder. We make progress on almost every indicator and with technology on our side to empower individuals and organizations we will speed up progress.

  1. Genuine partnerships

We know that in this house it takes 3 to tango. But just being tripartite does not make it automatically a genuine partnership. The report rightfully advocates for ownership and involvement of the constituents. No ownership without genuine partnership! And a partnership is not just a “social contract”. To be future-proof or to become it, only a genuine dialogue based on trust and respect, can help us to gain control. Yet, there is a lack of trust and now and then some disrespect.

  1. Agility is key

Adopt a strategy that allows you to be agile, to adapt and to transform according to circumstances or events occurring. Addressing changes and challenges requires an innovative and creative approach. And bear in mind the Pareto principle when dealing with opportunities and threats. Spending efforts on threats is likely to only yield a 20% result. Therefore focus your resources on grasping opportunities. The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.

shutterstock_186483938 agility

  1. Informality – priority n°1

The high incidence of the informal economy in all its’ aspects remains the major threat or challenge for the rights of workers, for social protection, decent working conditions, the development of sustainable enterprises, public revenues, etc. So focus on the governance capacity of those countries, eliminate corruption, establish social protection floors, improve the business environment, promote investment and other measures to facilitate the transition from the informal to the formal economy and know that employers’ and workers’ organizations can and have to play an important role in that process.

  1. Skills – focus on the basics

The biggest challenge is not how to re-skill workers to adapt to the changing nature of jobs. From a global perspective the challenge remains to make sure all young people are in education and stay there until the have acquired at least basic skills.

  1. Lifelong personal development – empower

The skills of today will not match the jobs of tomorrow and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete. That is true and that is why we have to focus in the first place on skills that do not become obsolete as there are: basic literacy, numeracy & critical thinking. And add a layer of work ethics to that.

Jobs have always been subject to change and that is why life long personal development, learning new things and bringing them to practice needs to be part of our strategy. This is a shared responsibility! Workers have to be encouraged to take ownership over their personal development and careers. We have to give them better insights in their talents and skills and provide them with steering tools.

  1. Embrace digital technology and the digital economy

We should embrace new technology, not shield form it. Technological advances will create more jobs and better working conditions. All the pessimist forecasts from a few years ago, when this discussion started, meanwhile have been proven wrong. Digital technology is more easily accessible to all, more inclusive and less discriminatory. It is not so much the platform economy that could recreate nineteenth-century working practices. For that focus on the informal economy as I said before.

  1. Augmented labour markets

Technology and digital tools will provide never seen before opportunities for individuals to develop their talents on the labour market and take ownership over their careers. They will empower workers to discover jobs they never dreamed or thought of or to start their own businesses. The role of intermediary organizations, including workers’ and employers’ organizations, will drastically change. And to be honest, we are not ready for that. Challenge to self, I take note.

  1. Guarantee vs. pragmatic outcomes

Is a universal labour guarantee the answer? Should that be one of the recommendations? With a guarantee, a new concept, you create attention for yourself. I am no fan. I know success is not guaranteed but inaction will guaranty failure. For a lot of conventions ratification is low, implementation lagging behind. A guarantee creates another illusion. It is not a credible concept for a vast majority of workers and employers. We don’t need high-flying statements, new rights and conventions if they do not result in effective improvement. The world of work must be approached with common sense and tangible measures. We have enough words, what we need is more action.

  1. A great place to work

The message I send out to our members and now also to you is: “Go for a great place to work!” That is a place where people are able and willing to do their best work, the conditions created by the employer and with engaged workers, a place that is safe, motivating and free from violence and harassment. A great workplace is one built on trust. Trust drives sustainable engagement and engagement drives business performance.

The past, current and future role played by the private sector is key. The reality is that without a vibrant private sector there are no jobs and no decent work for all, no sustainable economic growth, no welfare and no social justice. The ILO remains a unique institution and the tripartite constituency is well placed to play a meaningful role. So please consider my humble recommendations.


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