This week I was lucky enough to represent the Bristol Mayor at a two day ‘Transforming Cities for Decent Work’ forum event involving over 40 city mayors and leaders from across the world, hosted and funded by the Mayor of Seoul in South Korea. Rubbing shoulders with representatives from major cities like New York, Paris, Bangkok, Sao Paulo and Ontario – it was great to put Bristol on the map, building new connections and sharing models through a lively peer exchange.
Up until 200 years ago, only 3% of the world’s population lived in cities. Now, the expansion of modern-day cities is leading to an influx of workers with over half the population now living and working in cities. For city government, support for decent work is critical if we are to achieve dignity for workers and fair, inclusive and sustainable development.
Dr Tim Dunlop, journalist and popular author, opened the event with an address about how technology is going to change the meaning of work. Whilst he acknowledged the displacing power of new technologies, he also recognised that technology will create more industries and different jobs. He referred to the hollowing out process whereby middle skilled workers doing routine work are in danger of losing their work roles. He recommended an increasing education and skills focus on soft skills such as team work, problem solving, and communication. He warned against a narrow emphasis on STEM which will only ever enrich the elite 25% required for high skilled work.
The rest of the event involved panel member presentations across a range of decent work policy areas – including economic development programmes, early careers and post 16 services, lifelong learning training ideas in new growth areas – including those targeted at residents most at risk of being left behind. Many cities are taking a lead on strengthening labour laws and policing labour standards – ‘another name for civil rights is labour rights’. There was a lot of discussion about the importance of providing protection for platform workers who are part of the ‘gig’ economy – an increasing number of people engaged in delivery, driving and courier services have no personal space, no regular breaks, no training opportunities, no sick leave etc.
How fantastic to see leaders across the world stand up and work hard through city government to build ‘people-centred cities’. There was a strong theme of city government taking positive action to improve citizen healthcare and wellbeing by contributing to improved working and living conditions. For all of us, quality of life is affected by quality of work – with enhanced motivation through continuous learning and personal development. Taking part in this event – with all the stimulating conversations about innovative city actions and strategies – was certainly a great learning opportunity to inform practical actions underway through our Learning City Partnership and teams.