Launch of High-Level Global Commission on the Future of Work

Speech by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven in Geneva 21 August 2017.

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Ms President, Director-General, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to this important event. It is a great honour to serve as co-chair of this Global Commission on the Future of Work. Access to decent work is fundamental for all women and men.

I got my first job in the early 1970s. I was in my teens, longing for adulthood, for freedom. I cleared brushwood in a ditch in northern Sweden. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it. 

Because I knew: a job is the foundation of a life of your own. Your own money, your own choices, your own future.

Our jobs have a huge impact on our lives. How we feel, how we live – even how long we live.

We live in a changing world, with a dramatically changing labour market. In light of this, there are some questions we have to address:

First of all, how do we fight unemployment in a world that still has over 200 million unemployed, so that everyone can feel the freedom I felt clearing brushwood in that ditch? How do we create more decent jobs, so that leaving for work in the morning is for a greater purpose than just getting a pay check at the end of the month? How do we create the conditions, so that all enterprises, all workers and all people can reap the benefits of globalisation and technological change?

In the international debate, it is becoming increasingly clear that one of the great challenges of our time will be to reduce inequalities.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, has said:

“You do not have to be an altruist to support policies that lift the incomes of the poor and the middle class. Everybody will benefit from these policies, because they are essential to generate higher, more inclusive and more sustainable growth.”

It is time to make globalisation work for everyone. And it is by addressing the problems in the global labour market that we can build social cohesion and confidence, and shape a globalisation that represses no one and benefits everyone. 

Equality – between countries and within countries – is the defining issue of our time. It must be addressed. Otherwise we will feed a growing insecurity and people will turn to more extreme solutions, or to simpler, populist solutions.

Only people who feel secure will welcome change. Without security, change can bring fear. But with security, change brings hope. My point is – closing the inequality gap is key.

Let me return briefly to the 70s. Around the time I got my first job, IBM presented the floppy disc. Its capacity was 360 kilobytes. If you show one to a young person today, they won’t know what to do with it. This gives us some idea of the change that working life has undergone since then.

Having said that, I believe the transition before us is even more fundamental.

Climate change is real; it is here. Men and women are living longer than ever before. Digitization, robotics and artificial intelligence are pushing areas of production to frontiers we never dreamed of before. 

These changes alter the way we look at work, both domestically and globally. But just as throughout history we have undergone technological evolution and emerged better, we can face these challenges with the knowledge that we have today and we can emerge better this time as well.

We cannot stop development, nor should we. What we need to do is to come together: to harness innovation to improve the daily lives of millions, to use new technology to build cleaner and more sustainable societies, and at the same time create new jobs with better conditions for everyone. These objectives lie at the heart of this Commission.

When thinking about the future of work and how we should approach the ever-ongoing evolution of technology, I repeatedly come back to a quote from a friend of mine – a former governor of Gothenburg, Social Democrat and union leader – Göran Johansson.

On a visit to a new industrial plant, he was asked what he thought when looking out over the high-tech industrial robots on the factory floor. He said:

“I don’t fear new technology. What I fear is the old one.”

We will undoubtedly have many fruitful and interesting discussions over the next two years. New ideas will be formulated, old theories rejected. But here are three important building blocks for managing the future of work that I will bring to the table.

We need to foster innovation.
We must create conducive environments for new ideas to grow and new types of jobs to be created. At the same time, we need to focus more attention on lifelong learning. People need opportunities for retraining – often more than once – in order to take the jobs that are available on a constantly evolving labour market.

We need improved social dialogue.
The labour market is sometimes described as a zero-sum game: a tug of war in which an advantage to one side means a disadvantage to the other. Every improvement for workers comes at the cost of the employers and vice versa. However, more and more people now understand that this notion is false. Strong social dialogue does indeed often lead to improved conditions for workers. But for businesses, it leads in turn to increased stability and productivity. I call it a win-win-win situation – a win for employers, a win for workers and a win for society.

But we also need to improve welfare and social security
– investing in improved healthcare and education, better and more accessible childcare and social services so that more people are able to enter the workforce. This is especially important for women’s employment. And believe me, women’s participation in the economy has positive effects on just about everything - food security, growth, health and education.

A universal welfare system is crucial for women’s liberation.

So is all this possible? Yes. Will it take a lot of effort, cooperation and political will? Absolutely.

I firmly believe that the capacity to shape the future of work is in our own hands. And so is the power to create better jobs, better working environments, more sustainable societies and a more even distribution of the benefits of globalisation.

I look forward to working with you, Ms President, with the Director-General and the members of the Commission, to lay the foundation of a working life where everyone can realise their dreams.

Thank you.