An open letter to CEOs. Subject: The Future of Work - A Global Deal

Dear CEO's,

The global economy is stagnant and your markets are shrinking. Your inbox is cluttered with invitations to discuss the 'fourth industrial revolution', as the hype of the digital economy threatens to distract you from core business.

Experts issue growth warnings, and your finance chiefs and boards are asking you tough questions.

Working people and their families with wages that allow them to live with dignity and money to buy your products - are the economic and social answers that you should see in every employee, customer and consumer.

The global workforce is around 3 billion people. The global economy depends on their labour, their families and their communities depend on their income and their commitment to each other's care.

As universal a truth as the rising and setting of the sun each day, the global economy needs people.

Instead we have created an unequal world where the vested interests of the few are afforded preference.

We have seen decades of excuses dressed as economic models to explain why wealth has not been shared, why natural resources have been exploited, why taxes were not expected of those who could most afford to pay and why social protection including health and education were not affordable for the poor.

The model of global trade has favored the developed economies; the global supply chains of major corporations feed wealth to the few from a model of low wage, insecure and unsafe work for millions while waging a war against freedom of association and corrupting democracies and the market with tax evasion while buying or bullying those with the levers on public policy.

The result is a global workforce in trouble:

  • Only 60 per cent of workers are employed in the formal economy but more than 50 per cent of these workers are in insecure work with short-term contracts and often unsafe work;
  • Forty per cent struggle to survive in the informal economy. This is the sector of desperation with no rights, no minimum wages, no access to the rule of law and too often no social protection;
  • And more than 45 million of our people are in modern slavery- forced labour;
  • Three quarters of the worlds people have no or inadequate social protection.

This is not the world of work you want for your sons and daughters so let's set in train the social dialogue and demand the rule of law that protects everyone's sons and daughters.

Global GDP has trebled since 1980, yet we have a global wages slump with historic levels of unemployment and rising inequality which is now an acknowledged risk to the global economy.

Debilitating levels of corruption, tax evasion and reduced independence of judiciary systems complete a picture of a fractured world.

And then there is the threat of climate change and a world that is uninsurable if we don't take action.

OECD Ministers meeting in Cancun to discuss the impact of digital platforms, robots and other technology on work - the response that comes to mind is "it's not the technology stupid!"

With you as managers, workers and their unions have dealt with the introduction of new technology for decades.

It may indeed be faster and more sophisticated this time, but the challenge of increasing skills, of changing work organization and of bargaining for a share of productivity is not new.

Those who don't integrate new technologies will likely fail in the market so industries will indeed graft on new technology and new business opportunities will emerge.

It's the narrative of the new economy entrepreneurs that put decent work at risk for all our sons and daughters.

The 'gig' economy might sound sexy while the 'sharing' economy is so enticing that they believe we should give up employment contracts, dismiss the notion of a working week where work, family and leisure can be balanced, forget about pensions and reap the rewards.

It's a whole new definition of going back to the future of except for the 50% of the worlds people without access to the internet it's the same business of exclusion.

These entrepreneurs do not want to accept the "social license to operate" that the rest of you do.

They don't want to pay taxes where they are earned or contribute to pensions or other social security benefits and they definitely don't want responsibility for and employment relationship or worker or public safety.

The issue is in whose interests is technology being deployed in such a way that there is an imperative to deregulate labour markets?

The worlds people are not fooled. ITUC global polling shows that 82 per cent of people agree that companies which provide services using internet platforms should provide workers with the same rights and protections - sick leave, paid holidays, pensions and union representation - as other workers receive.

The central challenge is how can technology best be harnessed and what new policy prescriptions do we need to ensure that decent work everywhere; we need a new global deal. A global deal for:

  • Full employment and decent work
  • Sustainability
  • Safe Work
  • Social protection, and
  • Inclusive growth.

The management of your business is in your hands, the guarantee of decent work for everyone's sons and daughter requires social dialogue and the rule of law.

The consequences of falling for the trojan horse called a fourth industrial revolution could destroy that if we let it.