Embedding social justice in our economic model

Globalisation, digitisation and artificial intelligence have highjacked the debate of the future of work for some time while ladened with fear of mass unemployment and the total takeover of our productive processes by robots. Social democrats who, for decades shaped social policy round the right to work were sent scratching their head of how to make sense of this debate within the labour-movement’s brand of social democracy. The Social Charter which until this day is Europe’s major benchmark for social rights is their Magna Carta and therefore, casting doubt about the value of work, and placing its relevance under pressure became a concern for the politics of the left.   

While Globalisation and digitisation are here to stay, with their presenting challenges to the industrial and labour market policies, nonetheless the significance of work has not diminished. In fact, pro-active industrial and labour market policies may not only provide, a country like Malta, with the competitive edge on the international stage but work may well turn out to be the central instrument of social policy in the years to come.

Work is already in transition. The EU Green Deal sent a clear message to EU Member States to shift from a carbon-based economy to a green economy. On the other hand, the ETUC and the major EU-level employer organisations signed an Autonomous Framework Agreement to work together on the introduction of digitisation in workplaces across Europe. The fact that so many workers relied on digital technologies to do their job during the pandemic created a step change in terms of the organisation of work with research suggesting that most workers shall continue working remotely in the long term.

Within this scenario the Minister for Finance Clyde Caruana identified 12 challenges which he sees facing our labour market in the coming years. The consultation document “The Labour Market – The Way Ahead” could not have come at a better time to revisit our Industrial and labour market strategies and re-position our policies and programmes, not only to take the next step forward but to bring about a paradigm shift. In this regard, the policy implications shall not be solely restricted to Government’s action to mitigate the hardship that those caught in the transition may experience. It is also about Government’s pro-active action to create and sustain a work environment that is future proof for the well-being of families. Moreover, it is about policies and programmes that empower workers to improve their competencies to adjust successfully to the ever-changing economic environment and for increased productivity and innovation, within a framework of regulation and social justice.

Work for a brighter future

Consistent with the above, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), lists three important pillars for the future of work in its report entitled “Work for a brighter future”. The first pillar emphasises the investment in people’s capabilities namely in universal life-long learning opportunities, support programs for workers in transition, transformative polices for gender equality, increased social protection and investment in institutions of work. Closer to home, the transformation of Jobs Plus in the last years has been critical for the emerging changes, and shall increasingly position itself to be an agent of change and facilitator of labour mobility.

The future of work shall be heavily influenced by the value of care for the environment, with the new generation of workers being highly sensitive to sustainable use of energy and other resources.

The second pillar that the ILO highlights is investment in the Institutions of Work, namely creating a universal labour guarantee of fundamental workers’ rights, adequate living wage, limits of working hours and a safe and healthy work environment. In addition, strengthening collective representation and harnessing and managing technologies for decent work. The current planned reform of the Industrial Tribunal by Minister Carmelo Abela is also a welcomed development, as such legal architecture is critical both for harmonious industrial relations and for a just transition to a sustainable economy.

The final pillar is that of increased investment in decent and sustainable work, particularly incentives to promote investments in key areas of decent and sustainable work. The future of work needs to be human centric, where businesses are designed and managed in a humane manner and where workers are able to balance their work and family life as well as develop their marketable skills. It should also serve as an economic model that rewards work, ensures equitable distribution of wealth and makes the well-being of people the centrepiece by which economic success is measured.

The future of work shall certainly be based on technological progress which undoubtedly shall contribute to higher productivity and improved bottom-line whilst also bring about shorter working hours, better conditions of work and work-life balance. The future of work shall be heavily influenced by the value of care for the environment, with the new generation of workers being highly sensitive to sustainable use of energy and other resources, adding value to all stakeholders including customers, shareholders and workers and contributing to the needs of the wider community they operate in. Future successful businesses shall be those that shall be innovative and competent in governance on one hand and fully aligned with the values of sustainable development and social justice, on the other.

Luca Visentini, Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation said that “we have to imagine a completely different world of work”. We shall not need to imagine for too long. The signs of the times are already clear for all to see.

The Labour Government is being presented with a once in a life-time opportunity to affect the paradigm shift for the economic model of this country. Embedding the notion of Social Justice in the industrial and economic fabric of this Nation, shall not only infuse greater resilience to face the future with confidence but shall sustain our shared value of social cohesion for the long haul.

It is challenging but not impossible.

This is what the politics of the left is about.

As Nelson Mandela once said; “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it”.

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