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The Foresight Centre conference on changes in the labour market conveyed the message that it is unnecessary to radically reform the labour market but crucial to keep the labour law and social protection updated.

OECD expert on the future of work Paolo Falco suggested that policies which protect countries against migration and free trade would probably fail in maintaining jobs. “The problem is not the loss of jobs, because job creation is a strong upshot of technological development. Instead, the problem is the increased inequality and the society splitting into segments with higher and lower skill levels, and the success of the economy depends on which one gains the upper hand,” Paolo Falco said.

Jens Riis Andresen from McKinsey & Company talked about the future of work in a digital environment. He said that more jobs are created than lost and that the development of technology increases the demand for higher education on the labour market. Tea Danilov, the Head of the Foresight Centre, called this good news for Estonia. “The percentage of people with higher education is substantial in Estonia, yet the difference in their salaries compared to those of people with a lower level of education remains relatively small,” Danilov emphasised.

 Both experts agreed that employees with medium skill levels are the most at risk.

Kaire Holts, Research Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire, and Merle Erikson, Professor of Labour Law at the University of Tartu, spoke about the current discussion surrounding the definition of working relationships, as well as whether the protection of workers should be extended to include the new forms of work, especially in light of platform and virtual work gaining more ground. They see the main problem in the poverty risk that comes with job insecurity. “New forms of work also lead to problems in tax law because the legal status of the worker is not always clear,” Erikson explained.

European Migration Network Coordinator Ave Lauren said that labour force is no longer a stable resource and that work related migration is on the rise both in Estonia as well as worldwide. “Although countries would prefer the immigration and resettlement of talents, talents themselves prefer a mobile lifestyle. Estonia has excellent conditions for becoming a pole of attraction for talents,” she said. Johanna Vallistu, an expert of the Foresight Centre, said that Estonia is already taking this into consideration, which is a step in the right direction. “This is evidenced by the rapid development of the e-residency programme, and the first steps in creating a digital nomad visa,” Vallistu stated.

Märt Masso (Praxis) and Janno Järve (CentAr) presented the options available for countries to ensure social protection for their citizens in the changing conditions of the labour market. Their presentations showed that people increasingly work at several jobs at once or are self-employed, and that the employer centred social security schemes fail to accommodate them. The central problem of the Estonian social protection lies in its sustainability; if we hope to move towards a broader protection of new forms of work, the problems will only exacerbate further.

The Foresight Centre is a think tank at the Estonian parliament; its tasks include analysing long-term developments in the society, identifying new trends and development avenues, and drafting development scenarios. The Foresight Centre bases its studies on a variety of possible developments and outlines alternative scenarios.

 The Centre is currently working on a study on the future of the labour market, which formed the backdrop for this conference on the future of work, entitled Changing work and changing labour market. Decision points in policy shaping.