Let’s all talk about the future of work

At today’s launch of the PSA’s Progressive Thinking book on the future of work, it quickly became apparent that there is no magic crystal ball for predicting how radically different our workplaces will be in years ahead.

Instead there were some strong insights from a panel of book contributors who made it clear what we can generally expect, and some reasonable evidence-based aspirations about what to avoid.

As Prof Margaret Wilson put it, changes to the way we work are a matter of when not if. She added that at this point in time we are seriously lacking “joined up public policy” about the future of work.

For Laila Harré, the prospect of pushing back against inevitable changes brought by technology would be a “fools’ game”, while at the same time agreeing that we need alternative models such as a reinvention of the co-operative movement.

  • Watch the event video on Facebook - part one and part two.
  • See other links below

Fow room shot small

Another theme at today’s launch was to be prepared for a future mind-shift that is more focused on thinking about how we handle redeployment of our collective talents across dispersed workplace settings, and not to be caught up in scaremongering or panic about “mass unemployment”.

One point of general consensus during the panel discussion was that the rampant dominance of the Facebook-Amazon-Netflix-Google techopolies and many elements of the so-called gig economy are not doing much to set the scene for a brave new world, but are actually more illustrative of anti-democratic tendencies and negative work practices. 

Harré suggested that we guard against old fashioned forms of “opportunistic exploitation”, and pursue the Government to support digital platforms that can be developed based on local needs in New Zealand and positive local opportunities to assist people to “organise themselves”.

Sam Huggard, NZCTU secretary, noted that a challenge for unions in this is to keep finding ways to “take the unions to the workers”.

Panel small

Fellow contributor Te IwiNgaro Dunn, a PSA delegate from Auckland, argued that the imperative in taking us to a better future for work and workplaces is “the imperative of including worker voice”.

So how should planning for the future of work proceed under a Government that should be commended for taking this issue with the seriousness it deserves?

Laila Harré’s view on this was that we need to be cautious about any current planning or initiatives that become “too top-down”.

She expressed the view that the political capital being invested in this might go to waste if it stops short of being sufficiently radical and innovative. 

She suggested that now is a time to pursue more “social innovation” by testing out different, experimental approaches for the ways we work in order to find ways that will make a long-lasting difference to a long-lasting challenge.

TeIwiNgaroDunn small2

As a final takeaway Te IwiNgaro Dunn made these two enduringly valuable points:

  • Firstly that “if we get (the future of work) right for indigenous people, then everybody flourishes”.

  • Second, that if we want to end up with a better society we need to continue to ensure that all members of our community - whatever their walks of life - experience income, conditions and attitudes  that enable them to be dignified in their work.

Ten perspectives on the future of work

Five of the contributors to Progressive Thinking: Ten perspectives on the future of work were present in Wellington today for the book launch. 

FoW author group small3

(L-R) Te IwiNgaro Dunn, Laila Harré, Margaret Wilson, Bill Rosenberg, Sam Huggard.

 You can download the full book here.


Foreword by Glenn Barclay & Erin Polaczuk, PSA national secretaries

  1. Collective voice in a freelance world by Andrew Pakes
  2. Ngā kaupapa and the future of work by Paula Davis and Te IwiNgaro Dunn with Kirsten Windelov
  3. Employee voice by Laura Harvey
  4. Work - the future - are we prepared by Margaret Wilson
  5. Low wages and our weak industrial relations law by Bill Rosenberg
  6. Fair pay agreements: are we ready for them? by Laila Harre
  7. Work in a world of climate change by Sam Huggard
  8. Normalising flexible work by Dr Noelle Donnelly
  9. NZ Businesses role in addressing human rights issues by Dr Jackie Blue
  10. An employers’ guide to manage the revolution by Lisa Heap