ILO Calls for Measures to Improve Workers' "Time Sovereignty"

Cover art on the  Work for a Brighter Future  report.

Cover art on the Work for a Brighter Future report.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Commission on the Future Work published its Work for a Brighter Future report in January 2019, calling for “a human-centred agenda for the future of work that strengthens the social contract by placing people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice.” One section of the report covers the need to improve workers’ “time sovereignty” - the ability to exercise control and balance over one’s own work time.

This report section brings up two key issues related to time sovereignty:

  1. “time poverty” - the lack of leisure time stemming from excessive work hours; and

  2. inconsistent and variable work schedules, an issue that is usually accompanied by a lack of sufficient work.

To address time poverty, a problem particularly affecting workers in developing nations, the report stresses the need for improvements in productivity which allow for shorter work hours while still maintaining or increasing output. This would likely involve some amount of government enforcement to ensure that productivity increases benefit workers and do not just increase the employer’s bottom line - the report suggests maximum daily and weekly limits on working hours.

As for the issue of inconsistent work hours, the report states that “Governments, employers and workers need to invest effort in crafting working time arrangements that give workers choice over scheduling, subject to the company’s needs for greater flexibility… This would allow workers, both men and women, to schedule their hours in accordance with their domestic responsibilities.” On call workers are mentioned explicitly as those who must be treated better in the future. The report suggests regulatory measures requiring employers to make predictable work schedules with a minimum number of paid hours. It also calls for companies to be more conscious of keeping employees engaged in their work during off hours, particularly using smartphones.

Click here to read the full ILO Work for a Brighter Future report. The section covered in this blog post is on pages 40-41.