Changes to job markets driven by new technologies, accelerated further by the COVID-19 pandemic, are opening up workers to threats as well as opportunities, experts and industry leaders said on Thursday at a summit organised by WEF.
Panelists at the World Economic Forum's Jobs Reset Summit 2020, being held online from October 20-23, also said the 21st-century employment model looks a lot like the 19th century, as gaps are becoming visible in the social protection systems and the pandemic has created extraordinary vulnerabilities for workers.
In the next five years, machines will displace an estimated 85 million jobs but create around 97 million new jobs across 15 industries and 26 economies, according to the WEF's Future of Jobs Report 2020.
The global recession driven by the pandemic has accelerated this trend and created a highly uncertain outlook for global labour markets.
The study also found that the pace of automation of workforce and digitisation of workplace is higher than the global average for India operations of companies.
Another WEF study found that as many as 57 per cent of workers in India are concerned about potential job losses in the next one year, although a large majority of employees also expect their employers to help them retrain for new roles.
"Technology has a major, if not the most important, role in shaping the future of work," said C Vijayakumar, President and CEO of HCL Technologies.
"The fact that technologies potentially allow us to work anywhere, anytime sounds extraordinarily attractive," said Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
"But if it similarly would allow someone to tell me that I must work anywhere, anytime, regardless of my own choice, it's somewhat less attractive," he added.
Ryder further said the gig economy (temporary positions) -- as revealed by the pandemic -- has created extraordinary vulnerability in the world of work, not just in the developing world, but also "in the attics of Manhattan."
Freelancers are not clear about their employment status and can find themselves falling through the gaps of social protection systems. "The 21st-century employment model looks a lot like the 19th century... it took us a century to build the institutions to put some decency into that business model," Ryder noted.
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, warned that "Internet-mediated platform jobs are absolutely breaking down wages and conditions."
Burrow advocated a new social contract between workers, employers and governments to ensure that every working person enjoys an adequate minimum wage for a maximum number of hours worked, universal social protection and occupational health and safety as a fundamental right.
She called for an end to employer impunity, with "mandated due diligence around workers and their rights", including sufficient grievance procedures and remedies.
Collective bargaining has collapsed, with 75 per cent of people reporting that their incomes have stagnated or gone backward since the late 1980s and unless we rebuild those commitments, we won't have a fair economy, said Burrow.
"Flexibility doesn't mean exploitative work," she added.
Panelists said what is needed is massive investment in people, workplaces and jobs in growth industries.
People need skilling and reskilling. In particular, governments and companies must "invest in social protection -- the most effective lubricant of change," Ryder said.
He pointed out that change has been bad for too many people, so they are more likely to embrace change if they are reassured they won't fall through the cracks in the process.
Ryder said workplaces need re-engineering, which would need better laws and regulations to protect workers, while more investment needs to go into areas with the greatest potential for job growth, including green technologies, the care economy, infrastructure and the rural economy.
Increasing public investment by 1 per cent of GDP in advanced and developing economies would create up to 33 million new jobs, said Burrow, citing the International Monetary Fund.
"We can double that by investing in care," she added.
Vijayakumar underlined the potential of low-carbon technologies, saying: "The 21st century will be marked by the sustainable economy and tech companies have a huge role to play to create these new jobs in the intersection of climate change and public services, as well as consumer products."