Policy Dialogue on Promoting Inclusive, Quality and Job-Rich Economic Growth in Emerging Economies organized by the Ministry of Labour and Employment

Policy-makers, government officials, academicians, civil society bodies convene to discuss the challenges of the Indian labour market

An engaging two-hour policy dialogue was organized by the Ministry of Labour and Employment on the issue of employment and job-rich economic growth set in the Indian context. The dialogue took place at Hotel Ashok in New Delhi.

Shankar Aggarwal, Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment opened the discussion by saying that the dialogue aims at gathering rich perspectives on how best to address the issue of inclusivity and equity in the Indian labour market. He said that the Honourable Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi is fully-committed to UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

Guy Ryder, Director-General of ILO, said that this policy dialogue provides an opportunity to exchange ideas with a multi-stakeholder body comprising of academia, policy makers, civil society organizations, workers, and employers. He spoke about the ILO and summarized it as an organization which defines its mission on social justice as decent work for all. Ryder also spoke of his impressions on Indian economy – young and flourishing – and having the ability to overcome poverty challenges and break the informality cycle. He spoke about the Future of Work centenary initiative and said that India’s contribution on the conversations around the world of work is significant. He said that there are four mega drivers to the changing world of work – technology, demography particularly differential demography, climate change and globalization.

Guy Ryder triggered the conversation in the room by asking - Where do you see the keys to inclusive growth in India?

Arun Maira, former member of Planning Commission of India, said that there is a need to change mindsets. “What we need is not more growth but inclusive growth. We need to create conditions for more employment which will then generate more income. Despite of high growth we have had a poor track record to translate this into equal opportunities for all. Jobs cannot be planted in an economy, they have to be generated through conducive conditions. We have to have labour reforms. It is an indisputable fact that all parties – industry, workers, and employers – desire labour reform. However, this issue is contentious.”

Gayathri Kalia, Chief Operating Officer of Aajeevika Skills Program in Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) said that we need to talk about harnessing local economies. Labour movement is hardly analyzed. There is a rich availability of jobs in the local market and yet people are moving out in search of jobs. There is also a need to address the casualization of labour. “Multi-level contracting is happening in every sector and one is not very sure how to deal with decent work agenda given what is happening in reality.”

Academicians like Indira Hirway said that there is a need for having this growth trickle to the bottom of the pyramid. And that the macro-economic policies have not facilitated this. Marginalized communities like the SC/ST and OBC are not reflected in our policies. She said, Skills India and other initiatives is all good but the real challenge is to ensure good education at the primary and secondary level. It is also pertinent to ensure that the marginalized have access to social security. It is only through these safety nets that those who are at the bottom of the pyramid reap the benefits of a growing economy. “We are tending to focus on FDI, ease of business etc. but forgetting that there is a dire need to ensure equitable growth for all.”

Adding to this, Bina Aggarwal, Professor of Development Economics and Environment University of Manchester, said that along with labour reforms there is a need to have land reforms. She spoke how the agricultural sector should not be neglected.

Many also spoke about skilling and the need to introduce vocational training courses at the school level. Jyotsna Sitling, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship said that social entrepreneurship and women entrepreneurship in future will play a major role. And in this sphere she looks forward to ILO’s collaboration.

Kamala Sankaran, professor faculty of law at Delhi university, spoke of looking at the question of inclusivity from an Indian lens. “There are different benchmarks of inclusivity in different countries. The Indian exception is that social protection comes in the form of reservation. And if we don’t take this into account then the fault-lines will be magnified. The focus of the discussion from labour reform should also shift to service delivery reform. The number of people accessing schemes like MGNREGA, the court is not able to handle it.”

Divergent thoughts were shared across the room. From labour movement, to a bottoms-up approach, to change of mind-sets, skill-based education, rural reform, and addressing the downward trend of Indian women in workforce. The discussions helped both ILO and Ministry of Labour and Employment get a strong insight into how these issues can be better linked and tackled.

“Strong lessons emerge from this conversation and I am fascinated by the whole growth-employment discussion. What goals are we trying to achieve? It is difficult to ascertain in the time of changing politics. Growth scenario makes me think of China which made a clear decision to forego double-digit growth rates. They focused on attaining different economic and social results. We must rethink the product of economic activity. It should be measured beyond the GDP.”

Shankar Aggarwal and Guy Ryder thanked the participants for their time and their valuable comments.