OECD Forum 2019 Session: Future of Work: Job Quality & Protection

Go to the profile of France Charlet
May 21, 2019
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This OECD Forum 2019 background note will be used to prepare speakers on the panel Future of Work: Job Quality & Protection, taking place at the OECD headquarters from 09:30-10:45 on Tuesday, 21 May. Join the Forum Network to comment and help inform the upcoming debate and, whether you're with us in Paris or watching online, let us know what you think of the session!


The future of work is now! Many of us are working in new ways, by using new technologies to do our jobs more efficiently, finding work through online platforms or collaborating daily with colleagues in other countries. We may be working more flexibly to better balance work and family, or moving into different careers. Yet, at the same time, changes in work have contributed to growing inequality in wages as well as opportunities and risks. 

In many countries, social benefits and collective bargaining have long been based on the idea that people have a stable, full-time job with a single employer. Yet already, in the OECD area, about 1 in 7 of us is self-employed and 1 in 9 has a temporary contract. Increasingly, people are finding “gig” work through online platforms, with many self-employed but dependent on a single client. 

Those doing such jobs may face less stable wages and lack access to union representation – and are up to 50% less likely to receive support when out of work, as well as less likely to receive health and retirement benefits. They also experience more work-related stress. 

Unions and employers' organisations play a crucial role in shaping working conditions and the future of work. Some unions are reaching out to non-standard workers: lobbying on their behalf, adapting their bargaining practices or creating dedicated branches. Yet, union membership has steadily declined and non-standard workers are still 50% less likely than standard workers to be unionised. 

The risks of inaction are real: a patchy social safety net – combined with a lack of social mobility, less access to collective representation and ongoing income disparities – could result in increasingly high inequality. 

Together however, we can harness digitalisation to build a world of work in which the quality of jobs and lives improves. 

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As part of the OECD’s I am the Future of Work campaign, we asked citizens around the world to share their hopes and fears regarding social protection and job quality in the future of work. Here are some of their answers: 

“I’m keeping my part of the bargain: I continue learning, I gain new skills and experiences, in order to be employable. I’m waiting for the job market to keep its part of the deal by allowing me to have a job for a number of years and to then be able to live comfortably when my working days are over”. Daniela, 23, accountant, Mexico 

“Yes, I’m afraid to be unemployed. I bought a house and have a loan to pay back. I can’t do this by staying at home”. Hatem, 50, weaver, France. 

“If I lost my job, I would rely first on myself and the savings I have and second on my family, especially my parents. After that, I would probably go to my friends. I don’t think of the government as an institution I could rely on. I don’t think I’ll retire in the classic sense of stopping working”. Tommy, 34, start-up investor, United States 

  • How can unions and collective representation adapt to new forms of work and worker-employer relations without removing “collective” from the collective bargaining process?
  • How much will it cost to adapt social protection systems? Are countries ready to invest?
  • How can we ensure job quality is a top priority for policy makers and employers alike?
  • New approaches are being tried in some countries to ensure that everyone has the protection they need, should they fall ill or lose their job, or when they retire. How can we learn from them?
  • There is no silver bullet, but what is the most important reform countries should implement on the way to ensuring that 21st century jobs have 21st century working conditions?

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Related Topics

OECD Forum 2019

Find out more about OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

Banner image: Ricardo Resende on Unsplash


Go to the profile of France Charlet

France Charlet

Communications Campaign Manager, OECD

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