Civil society slams flagship World Bank report on the future of work

Oct 12, 2018

By Sophie Edwards

NUSA DUA, Indonesia — Fears that technological advances will wipe out jobs and worsen working conditions are “largely unfounded,” according to a major report by the World Bank, which argues that innovation will instead create new jobs and opportunities.

However, governments will need to roll out social protections and invest more in human capital to ensure the poorest workers are not left behind, the report says, adding that labor regulation may need to become “more flexible” and labor costs lowered to help companies adapt to the changing nature of work.
Civil society groups have slammed the 2019 World Development Report, launched Friday morning during the World Bank annual meetings in Bali, which they say underplays the risks that automation poses to jobs, and promotes deregulation policies that will harm workers’ rights. They also say it contradicts views and policies put forward by some parts of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“The WDR on work is a massive disappointment … The core message is [that] the rights and freedoms of … poor [workers] around the world are somehow too much and we need to water them down in the interests of progress,” Max Lawson, Oxfam International head of inequality policy, told Devex.

During a side session to the meetings on Wednesday, Edward Miller, Asia-Pacific campaign officer for the Building and Woodworkers International trade union, added that the WDR has a “strong deregulatory thrust within it [and includes] attacks on many basic worker rights.” The International Trade Union Confederation has issued a strongly worded critique of the report.

However, speaking at the session, Michal Rutkowski, World Bank senior director of social protection and jobs, said the recommendations focus on informal workers whose needs are “far more dire … than those covered by collective bargaining schemes.” Nothing in the report goes against the work of trade unions to secure better working rights, he said, although “it does make a point [that] the over-regulation of the labor market is not particularly friendly to informal sector workers because it may enhance segmentation.” The report is about “how to make labor markets … more dynamic and flexible and [establish] social protection that is universal and not linked to one employer,” he said.

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