The rapidly transforming world of work demands a forward-looking analysis to prepare Catalonia for various possible scenarios. The Government of Catalonia’s Ministry of Business and Labour recognized this need and organised the 1st Catalan Labour Congress, which took place at the International Convention Centre of Barcelona (CCIB) from April 24 to 26, 2023.
1st Catalan Labour Congress: Barcelona as the Epicentre of Future Work Debate
Supported by the country’s most prominent social agents and a multidisciplinary scientific committee, the Congress aimed to shape the 2030 Catalan Work Strategy. The event turned Barcelona into the centre of debate on the future of work, attracting Spanish and international social agents, academic, political, and economic leaders and experts to exchange experiences and create synergies.
The 1st Catalan Labour Congress was launched with a keynote speech by renowned economist, sociologist, activist, and political advisor Jeremy Rifkin. Under the theme “Work in a new economy for life,” the Congress featured nearly 50 speakers who discussed work hours, adapting training to new professional realities, and the relationship between the world of work and social transformations. The event facilitated conversation and collaboration among top scientific, academic, social, political, and economic leaders from Spain and abroad, making Barcelona the epicentre of reflection on the immediate future of work. Daniel Susskind, a leading researcher and economist specialising in work automation, closed the event with his insights on a future with less work.
Over three days the attendants participated in more than 12 sessions that were divided into 8 blocks, addressing topics of particular relevance in recent times, such as the past, present, and future of work; state involvement in work; working conditions for a just and diverse society; work organisation and the debate on working hours; work in a social and solidarity economy; social dialogue and collective representation in the 21st century; a just transition and Sustainable Development Goals; and training as a key factor in the future of work.
Embracing Change: Inauguration and Key Discussions on the Future of Work and Sustainability
The Catalonia Future of Work Congress kicked off with an opening speech by Pere Aragones, President of the Generalitat de Catalunya. Aragones emphasised the importance of fighting inequality and highlighted the Catalan Employment Strategy 2030. He called for upskilling and reskilling efforts, fostering entrepreneurship, and embracing compromise and talent. He also discussed the need for adaptation in response to the climate crisis.
Jeremy Rifkin’s Call to Action: Embracing Ecosystems and Adaptability
In his speech, Jeremy Rifkin emphasised the critical state of the planet, highlighting the rapid changes humans have caused over a relatively short period. He urged for a shift towards a more sustainable, ecologically and socially conscious way of living. Rifkin cited the adaptability of humans as a key strength, emphasising the importance of understanding and respecting ecosystems, as they are an intrinsic part of our existence. He called for increased collaboration and cooperation among all stakeholders, stressing that technology alone cannot solve environmental issues. Rifkin expressed faith in the Millennial and Gen Z generations, who are actively addressing climate concerns. He highlighted the role of small businesses in driving change, as they tend to be more adaptable and agile than larger corporations.
Block 1: Past, Present, and Future of Work
The first panel discussed digitalization, robotization, and the future of work, with a focus on the role of technology in transforming the job market.
In Block 1, the panellists delved into various aspects of the future of work, with a focus on digitalization, robotization, gender equality, and the future of work, with a focus on the role of technology in transforming the job market.
- Albert C. Bagò emphasised the role of technology in transforming the world of work, highlighting the importance of continuous change, learning, and adaptability. He pointed out that AI won’t steal jobs, but rather create new opportunities for those who can effectively communicate with it. Furthermore, he stressed that the concept of work is undergoing a metamorphosis, with technology changing workplaces, work hours, and roles.
- Pilar C. Oto addressed the gender pay gap, linking it to time constraints faced by women who often shoulder more responsibility for their children. She cited that in Europe, 9.8 million people work in households, with 90% of them being women. Oto urged that the evolving world of work must eliminate the gender pay gap alongside other changes.
- Genis R. Verard discussed the implications of digitization on wealth distribution and the nation-state model. He argued that digitization does not return wealth to local areas and that the nation-state concept is becoming outdated due to increasing globalisation. Verard suggested that a more global approach is necessary in the digital era.
Overall, the panellists emphasised the need for adaptability and tackling various challenges as the future of work undergoes rapid transformations due to technology, the push for equality, and the shift towards a globalised world.
Block 7: Just Transition and Sustainable Development Goals
This panel emphasised the need for a change in perspective on the planet and climate change, as well as the importance of productivity and resource use. Panellists, (Javier Pachecho Soredilla, Virgina Guida Lagalle, Camil Ros Duran), discussed the increasing levels of poverty and inequality, the need for change in production and consumption, and the lack of integration between climate change and labour debates. They called for training policies, digitization processes, and negotiation as key factors in driving change. The panel concluded by highlighting the importance of taxation policies that reward environmentally friendly practices and the critical role of time in addressing these challenges.
Minister Roger Torrent’s Vision: Adapting to Technological Changes and the 2030 Catalan Employment Strategy
Minister of Business and Labour, Roger Torrent, explained that the incorporation of technological advances has led to significant changes in work methods, job types, and required skills. As a result, debates on the organisation of work time and collective representation have resurfaced. The current regulatory framework conflicts with new labour realities, generating uncertainties, demands, and challenges that must be addressed by governments and institutions.
To tackle these issues, the Catalan Ministry of Business and Labour is developing a 2030 Catalan Work Strategy that will define mid and long-term objectives, acting as a reference framework for the region. The strategy will be built through dialogue and debate, initiated and promoted by the 1st Catalan Labour Congress.
Conclusion: Envisioning the Future of Work in Catalonia
The 1st Catalan Labour Congress invited reflection on the future of work and the main trends shaping it. The Congress examined global dynamics to understand their potential implications for Catalonia. As part of the 2030 Catalan Work Strategy, the event aimed to create a roadmap for facing the challenges presented by the world of work in the coming years.