International Labour Day

We need a human-centred recovery, with justice and equity

Message on the occasion of International Labour Day from Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT for South Asia and Country Office for India

Feature | India | 01 May 2021
On International Labour Day last year, we trusted that COVID-19 will be behind us by this time. But, we are still in the grip of this pandemic. For India, currently the situation is grim. We see that Government, both at centre and in States, and our social partners (employers’ and workers’ organizations) are extending support to the working community in their respective capacities.

The ongoing vaccination programme appears to be a great respite in these challenging conditions. After the first two phases focused on vaccinating health workers and elderly population, starting today, the country will expand its vaccination programme for the age group of 18 to 45. This age group also covers the majority of the workforce of the country and it is heartening to see that this happens on International Labour Day.

Along with vaccination, we also need to take cognisance of the lessons learnt from the first phase of the pandemic. These were efforts to sustain jobs and enterprises, extend social security to formal and informal workers and most importantly efforts to protect lives of people by improving occupational safety and health measures at workplaces.

The ILO and its constituents have continued to play a critical role in enabling the actors to not only survive but minimise the risk of any slide down or reversal of the progress made so far towards SDG 8 - ‘Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all’.

Employer and Business Membership Organizations (EBMO’s) represent businesses, large and small. They have been at the forefront in responding to the crisis, in supporting members for business continuity and have been the voice of business while engaging with policy makers. ILO was upfront in providing technical guidance and collaborating with the organisations on important initiatives.

The Employers Federation of India (EFI) refined their membership development strategy to incorporate wider sections of business community and respond to their needs. The Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE) conducted a large survey on the impact of working from home modality. Based on their findings, guidelines are under development for its members to facilitate adaptation to this ‘new normal’. Similarly, All India Organisation of Employers (AIOE) is conducting a study on the ramifications of internal migration in India from an Industry perspective. The study will have more credibility and value with the findings in relation to the impact of the second wave of COVID-19.

Moving forward it is noted that EBMOs in India are trying to extensively upgrade their service delivery and focussing on their advocacy role. It is good to note that the crisis has acted as a catalyst in driving modernisation and innovation in EBMOs in India.

Trade Unions (TUs) in India arranged awareness-raising campaigns, capacity development programmes, legal advice and services matching labour market needs of their members. The TUs went beyond their membership and even reached out to unorganized workers in particular, migrants, home-based, domestic, construction and others sectors and those who were severely affected due to temporary or permanent closure of their work units.

ILO provided TUs with exposure to regional and global experiences of supporting workers during COVID-19 crisis, with peer learning opportunities. Technical seminars were also held that contributed towards shaping TUs policy inputs to the changing legal and policy environment in the country.

TUs and the ILO together organized a number of consultation to enhance collective understanding and strategy, notably on, ‘COVID-19 and World of Work: Sharing Experience and Way forward’, ‘Impact of COVID-19 crisis on Informal Workers in Lower Tiers of Supply Chains, Domestic Workers and Agriculture’, ‘New Labour Codes, Social Dialogue and Future of Work’, among other.

In this second wave, TUs have prioritised activities protecting workers’ rights; and their employment and are coordinating support towards the necessary emergency relief at the grassroot level.
The reeling impact of the pandemic is bound to linger for longer than we predicted. In our recovery efforts we now need urgent measures and policies guaranteeing workplace safety. More so, there is an urgent need for filling gaping holes in the social protection system, especially for informal and migrant worker, whose vulnerabilities are multi-dimensional.

Post pandemic, there will be bigger challenges of curbing the growing inequality. The virus does not discriminate among people, but the social and economic impact of it does. It could push the poorest and the powerless back, putting at stake the progress made by their current generation.

In such times, we need to rely on Social dialogue. It has a long and rich history in India. During the pandemic, the ILO has intensified its support to the tripartite constituents, with a view to place social dialogue at the heart of policy-making in COVID-19 responses, in line with international labour standards and drawing on best international practice. The country has established a number of tripartite social dialogue mechanisms, and the practice of collective bargaining has an equally long tradition.

No single constituency can, by itself, successfully achieve an effective recovery from the ravaging effects of the pandemic. This will require a joint effort involving government, employers’ organisations, and trade unions; working in a cohesive partnership with each other towards the achievement of a single goal of achieving ‘a better normal’.

On this International Labour Day, let us look back at the historic struggles that brought hard won gains. Remind ourselves of the extraordinary sacrifices people in the world of work make to beat COVID-19. Today is the day to make a vow towards valuing social justice and fundamental rights at work. Let us together find the inspiration and determination to build the better future, which is the meaning and purpose of those who have celebrated May Day around the world for so many years.