Inclusive governance, a just transition, gender-equity and digitalization are the four considerations that the future of work should be built upon

Valedictory address by Ms Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi at the 62nd Indian Society of Labour Economics Conference at IIT Roorkee

Statement | Roorkee, India | 13 April 2022
• President of the ISLE conference, Professor Alakh N. Sharma
• Deputy Director IIT Roorkee, Mr Manoranjan Parida
• President ISLE, Professor Deepak Nayyar
• Hon. Secretary ISLE, Mr I.c. Awasthi
• Organising Secretary ISLE, IIT Roorkee, Mr S.P. Singh
• Policy makers
• Academia
• Scholars
• Media
• Colleagues
• Ladies and gentlemen,

Namaskar, and a very good day to you all!

It is my pleasure and honour to share this valedictory address, as we close the 62nd Indian Society of Labour Economics Conference today, after what I found to have been very engaging and fruitful discussions and deliberations on topics essential for shaping the future of work we want to see!

The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted the world of work in the past two years. As a result, the issues around employment challenges, migration, development and social protection, discussed at this conference, have become more visible and topical than ever. At the same time, dimensions like understanding the falling female labour force participation rate and improving occupational health and safety for all workers now feature more prominently in the discussions on the future of work in India.

A future that needs to be democratic, giving workers, employers, and governments an equal say in forging labour market policies. The freedom of expression, the diversity of perspectives, and the inclusion of expertise and experiences, make any democratic institution thrive. Democracy, diversity and inclusion are hard-won and earned freedoms. They need constant vigilance and protection, for they are under continuous threat from forces that prefer and even promote heterogeneity over pluralism.

In 2019, the ILO constituents (Governments, Employers and Workers from 187 member States, including India) adopted the Centenary Declaration for the future of work with a human-centred approach, which focuses on increasing investment in people’s capabilities, in institutions of work, and decent and sustainable work for sustainable economic growth.

Since 2020, the UN has resolutely pushed for ‘Building Forward Better’, in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The ILO’s 2021 “Global call to action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient” affirms this.

These declarations underline the international community’s determination to take up the challenges in realizing decent work and ensuring that social progress goes hand in hand with economic progress and development that does not harm the environment but preserves it.

I wish to touch upon four important considerations that deserve our attention and further research in this endeavour, namely, Democratic and inclusive governance, Just Transition for environmental sustainability, the development of the Care Economy, and Digitalization.

Let me start with some further considerations on ‘governance’ in the future of work, which I have already started alluding to. A sustainable and resilient labour market practices democratic and inclusive governance in its institutions as well as workplaces. There are many good examples of workplaces that successfully practised bi-partism to navigate the pandemic crisis. We are very soon releasing a report with good practices in India that should inspire many.

It involves negotiation, consultation and exchanging information between representatives of governments, employers and workers on issues of common interest and concern. Strong, independent workers' and employers' organizations with the technical capacity and the access to relevant information build an environment that respects the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining. These feed into and further the political will and commitment to engage in social dialogue by all parties.

Social dialogue structures and processes can resolve important economic and social issues, encourage good governance, advance social and industrial peace and stability, and boost economic progress with better working conditions.

Just a few months ago, in November last year, the ILO launched its new tool, the self-assessment method for social dialogue institutions (SAM-SDI), to help constituents and other partners enhance the impact of tripartite social dialogue in policymaking as the world of work recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now more than ever, the State needs to enable an inclusive, free and democratic political and civil climate that allows employers' and workers' organizations to play their role, to harness the potential of constructive bi- and tri-partism.

Social dialogue also becomes essential in negotiating and governing the Just transition toward environmentally sustainable economies and societies. While we humans often live as if we are the only species on the planet, we are the only species that has devastatingly impacted the planet. Climate and biodiversity are hitting alarming tipping points. Decent work plays a critical role in reducing our harmful impact on Earth.
Every policy, enterprise and job that comes into play anywhere today must ask, “what is my impact on the climate and environment?” “What can I do to reduce it?” This is the second major consideration for the future of work.

Our research suggests that, by 2030, more than two per cent of total working hours worldwide would be lost every year to climate change, among other because it is too hot to work or workers have to work at a slower pace. 1.2 billion jobs – 40 per cent of world employment – directly rely on a healthy and stable environment. The environmental and employment challenges facing us are major and cannot be addressed separately or consecutively, making tackling them simultaneously a pressing necessity.

In November 2021, at COP26, nations affirmed the urgent need to set up efforts in saving the environment – without which there is no future. The ILO was instrumental in the agreement of the Just Transition Declaration, drawing from the constituent adopted 2015 Guidelines for a just transition which outline the necessary steps towards well-managed, environmentally sustainable economies and societies, decent work for all, social inclusion and the eradication of poverty.

Without a doubt, climate action – including a just transition – requires significant financial investment over the next decade to reap longer-term economic, social and decent work gains. Therefore, countries, businesses, financial institutions, and the international community, must focus on exploring how a just transition is to be financed, through innovative solutions such as public-private partnerships.
ILO’s recent report on “Greening with Jobs” shows the considerable net gain of jobs in the transition. More so in rural areas, especially for women at the local level. This could significantly help in bridging the rural-urban divide and cushion labour migration flows.

Moving on to my third consideration, anyone or anything that is hidden remains unaccounted for and is at risk of being left behind. This is precisely what has happened with women and care work, especially in the last two years.

With the pandemic, the need for care services skyrocketed, most of which were undertaken and delivered by women and girls. This is done either as unpaid care responsibilities for the family by women of the household or by domestic workers, who have become ad-hoc health workers, without adequate health or social protection.

Care is crucial at the beginning of life and the later stages. The ILO’s latest report, “Care at work: Investing in care leave and services for a more gender-equal world of work”, released on International Women’s Day last month, found that nearly 300 million additional jobs can be created globally by 2035 if the persistent and existing gaps in care services are plugged.

Care policies based on universal access can create a breakthrough pathway for building a better and more gender-equal world of work.

Better care policies will also open better employment avenues for women and increase the female labour force participation rate, which is essential for the economic development of a country. This can help establish a virtuous cycle of more equitable and inclusive development as women have a greater inclination to invest their household income into their children’s education, health, and welfare.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is wonderful to have this conference in person after two years. Otherwise, we have all grown accustomed to seeing one another on our small screens.

And with this, I would like to draw your attention to the last tenet - digitalization.

Algorithms dictate the digital world. Although social media platforms sometimes highlight the inherent biases that creep into them, workers need to be safeguarded against algorithmic biases that could disadvantage them from accessing the labour market, based on their gender, ethnicities, and physical abilities.

Gig and platform work became synonymous with the digital age. Since 2015, the ILO has worked on gig and platform work issues. Technology is redefining the economic relationships between workers and clients or employers globally, as platforms restructure how work and work processes are organized.

ILO's flagship report, "The role of digital labour platforms in transforming the world of work", from 2021, broadly covered the transformations these platforms are bringing in. Through extensive surveys and interviews spanning 12,000 workers in 100 countries and with about 85 businesses, it highlighted benefits like flexible work arrangements for marginalized sections like women, persons with disabilities, and youth, but also created challenges for workers' well-being and working conditions, especially in middle- and low-income countries.

As more work moves online with digitalization, workers miss out on the benefits of traditional workplaces like paid leave, minimum wages, limited working hours, collective bargaining and social protection, as the onus is shifting from the employers onto the workers to ensure the availability of these benefits. Additionally, workers struggle to find sufficient well-paying work and often don't have access to social protection, whose importance the pandemic has so critically highlighted.

As I conclude, I want to recall the central theme of the Centenary Declaration and the Global Call to Action of a human-centred approach for the world of work. This approach, which reaffirms that we leave no one behind, is strengthened by the ideals of diversity and inclusion. As a result, the future of work has equal representation of women and men, is built on new and emerging technologies free of biases, is equitable for workers, employers and governments and above all, one where the environment does not pay the cost.

With these words, I wish to encourage you all to continue your valuable research on topics related to decent work and to nurture evidence-based policy making for the better future of work we want to see!

Thank you for your dedication and kind attention!

Reference list:
Coherent and coordinated international effort is required to protect gig economy workers and businesses
ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, 2019
Global Call to Action for a Human-centred Recovery from the COVID-19 crisis
Care at work: Investing in care leave and services for a more gender-equal world of work
The role of digital labour platforms in transforming the world of work
Just Transition Declaration