Making Waves for Inclusion and Responsibility

UNI Global Union is making waves for inclusion and responsibility in the future world of work. This article sums up what we have pushed for in recent speeches.

Making Waves for Inclusion and Responsibility!

UNI Global Union’s Philip Jennings and Christina Colclough have made waves at three recent events on the future world of work: At the ILO, in the European Parliament and at an event organised by Google on digital skills. Main takeaways? We have some important messages and demands that might seem logical to us, but that are new to many. And just as significantly, our voices are sending ripples through the systems, opening doors and gaining traction.

Leading up to our Liverpool congress and the commitment we will make then to the Future of Work, the 2016 World Executive Board took firm decisions to lead the way to Liverpool finding solutions. UNI has the ideas, we have the propositions. We go one step further than identifying problems, we are offering solutions. Our interventions at the three events below show precisely that.

As we reported in a previous article, Philip Jennings didn’t hold back at the ILO’s big event on the Future We Want. Leading up the 2019 ILO Centenary on the future of work, these two days brought together over 700 participants from unions, employers and governments. The ILO fully recognises the challenges ahead, and the major process of change we already are witnessing. Committed to this work, the ILO is establishing a High Level Global Commission on the Future of Work, that will report to the ILO centenary conference. Fighting back against claims from other speakers that the unions have no place in the future individualised and globalised world of work, Jennings reminded all that unions were built by guilds of craftsmen.

We are a movement of visionaries, of dreamers – we have proved that throughout our history. We have never stopped innovating and changingPhilip Jennings, UNI Global Union

“We are a movement of visionaries, of dreamers – we have proved that throughout our history. We have never stopped innovating and changing,” asserted Jennings and added: “The casualisation of work is no answer to the problems facing our societies and communities. The digital world needs to be open to dialogue, we demand that corporations take responsibility. We demand a universal access to education and training. The ILO conventions need to be respected up and down the value chain. Let us in, and we will organise. The world needs us.”

“The answer is here, in this house. The ILO labour standards are a huge achievement. Lets bring that forward as robots and humans will work side by side, let’s make an “algorithm-8798”. Let the robot ask the human whether the conventions are respected, let that answer be known, and let’s take responsibility to amend the wrong.”

Jennings raised another paradox with regards the digital economy. Whilst many celebrate that digital technologies have opened markets and raised the potential for many new tech companies, he underlined that we are far from witnessing a disintegration of economic power.

“We have never had this level of concentration of economic and business power over a new raw material: data. Without any political response, 6 companies have consolidated their power into what Adam Smith, if he lived today, would call a conspiracy. They set the new rules of the game, they have the channels, the bridges, the power. It is a consolidation of power. The basic rules about the danger of concentration and danger of abuse, still apply.

Enjoy the full panel debate and Jennings’ interventions in the video above.

EP event – prioritising human well-being in the age of AI

Let’s not celebrate positive job statistics blindly. What if these jobs are exploiting workers, leaving them with under poverty level wages and no social rights? We must demand decent work for all.Christina Colclough, UNI Global Union

Colclough was joined by UNI Europa Finance Policy Officer Morten Clausen at an IEEE organised event in the European Parliament. Hosted by MEP Mady Delvaux, the 

evening was dedicated the theme of prioritizing human well-being in the age of artificial intelligence. In line with Philip’s demands to the ILO, Colclough’s interventions called for responsibility and the necessity of inclusion. In the company of politicians from the French government, and representatives from the OECD, the UN and the European institutions, Colclough was asked to respond to a question from MEP Sean Kelly on what jobs are at risk of displacement.

“Many jobs will most likely disappear, some predict anywhere between 40 and 77 %. And many tasks performed today by humans will be displaced and replaced by AI and robotics too. So the short answer is: basically – all are,” Colclough responded and continued. “Everyone in this room, every corporation, every government has a responsibility to boost the employability of workers. We cannot not act. We cannot accept that workers are pushed into self-employment and therefore out of the social security systems. We need to change our institutions, and we need to give all workers, in all forms of employment, the same strong social and fundamental rights. Companies must participate actively and financially to the re- and upskilling of workers. You cannot complain of a lack of people with the needed skills, and then not contribute.”

Colclough took the opportunity to add:

“And whilst we are talking about jobs, let me add a word of caution. When we read analyses and predictions that AI will create so and so many jobs, or that so and so many jobs are already created, let’s not celebrate the statistics blindly. What if these jobs are exploiting workers, leaving them with under poverty level wages and no social rights? We must demand decent work for all.”

Read more about the UN’s human development index that is created to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone here.

Click here for slides from the evening, including presentations by the OECD, the UN and the French government report “Toward a Controlled, Useful and Demystified Artificial Intelligence”.

And lastly, Colclough and Clausen had been asked by the organisers to write an impulse statement to wrap up the evening. Answering the following: How would society look different if human wellbeing (versus only GDP) were prioritized in the creation of Artificial Intelligence and technology policy?, see our response here.

Google event on digital skills

Lastly, Colclough was invited to speak at a Google hosted event on digital transformation in the mobile era: New Skills, Jobs and growth. Moderated by BBCs Samira Ahmed, the event brought together tech CEOs, experts and technologists to discuss the potentials of the digital transformation. As the only trade unionist in the room it was with anticipation that Colclough took the floor.

Intervening on the issue of how we ensure that the workforce has the required skills, Colclough once again stressed that the present casualisation of work and the growth of the self-employed and precarious work in all of its forms, in no way goes hand in hand with a general skills upgrade amongst the entire pool of workers. This point raised eyebrows amongst both the panel and the participants simply because, as one speaker admitted, he had never thought about this contradiction. Colclough raised the issue that unions are ready to engage in new forms of cooperation to boost skills levels, but that that required that companies and states had the same courage and determination to reinvent and explore new possibilities. Colclough further stressed that it is in all parties’ interest that we make the digital economy inclusive across geographies, skills levels, ages and gender. She explained:

“Already today we see that employees in the large companies receive far more training and upskilling possibilities that workers in small and medium-sized companies. With the rise of precarious work, this discrepancy will only grow to unacceptable and unsustainable levels. To balance things out, we could consider a solution where all companies of all types and sizes pay into an education fund, from which all workers, in all forms of employment can seek funds to cover income losses and training costs.”

After the event, Colclough was asked how Europe can close its skills gap. See her video answer on the clip here.

What can we learn from the above?

UNI Global is making waves in a world of tech enthusiasts, academics, experts, policy makers and corporations, and our views and opinions are welcomed, although they also take people by surprise. In all three events above, UNI offered concrete solutions and ways forward. The responses and the following contacts for more information show that our voice, our opinions and how and what we, the wider trade union movement, want for our societies and workers must be heard. Many have written our movement off, many have assumptions about us that in no way match reality. We have a duty to get out there, and make a difference. We simply owe it to the generations that follow us.

Catch up on some of the opinions we are pushing on our new website dedicated to the future world of work:

Read UNIs recent article where we identify the mega trends affecting our world, the key drivers of technological change and what we all must and can do to bring about a just transition and a sustainable future of work in the link below.

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