When we hear about the future of work, it usually involves esoteric discussions around technology or artificial intelligence. But the future of work must be shaped by those essential to the work process—the women and men who build our houses, sew our garments and design our computers. That is why the future of work must be about democracy, the ability of all workers to have a say in how their workplaces will be shaped so they may craft dreams for their own futures.
The freedom to form unions and collectively bargain creates the space for workers to assert their fundamental rights in shaping workplaces that are fair, democratic and humane.
“What will be the future of work in my country?” asks Natalia Levytska, deputy chair of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine. “I hope that in my country all workers will receive a decent salary and get safe workplaces. But for this future we need to have a strong trade union.”
Worker-Center Future Includes the Global South, the Most Marginalized
The future of work must encompass the voices of the global south, where jobs are so few, young workers are unable to find employment, or are so precarious they are unable to sustain themselves and their families. “When we think of the future, we feel that government policy has to be made jointly, hand in hand with the employers for a better living wage, for a decent working environment, for workers—young workers,” says Sylvester Jayakody, general secretary of the Ceylon Mercantile Industrial & General Workers Union, and a former textile worker in Sri Lanka.
The future of work must confront the long exclusion of the most marginalized workers. Among them, women, especially in global supply chains such as the garment and agriculture sectors, whose work is essential to the global economy, and migrant workers, who are disenfranchised through deregulation and denial of fundamental human and worker rights. And the nearly two-thirds of workers globally who eke out a living in the informal economy—driving taxis, selling in open markets, cleaning homes. Their work is unpredictable, unstable and often leads to poverty.
A Future of Work that Puts People Before Profits
When George Poe Williams, Secretary General of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia, looks to the future of work, he hopes for a safe working environment for health care workers in Liberia—where even disposable gloves are not available.
Economic and social policy and new business practices that put people at the center can upend the baked-in inequalities in a global economy that privilege the few to the detriment of the many. Envisioning a future where people are not secondary to profit can reverse systematic practices that deny worker voice and widen economic inequality, among them:
- Wage-squeezing supply chains
- Violence, especially gender-based violence and harassment at work and
- Withering democracy, as it closes space for workers’ voice.
With workers as full participants, equal in designing and implementing the future they envision, the scales can be rebalanced and a social contract struck.
Says Zakir Maroof, general secretary of the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives, “In the future in the world of work, especially in Maldives, I want to see an inclusive community, an inclusive work force in which workers have full right to practice freedom of association and collective bargaining and all workers are enjoying decent work and decent living with dignity.”