OpEd: The Panchtantra of the future of work

Looking at a fairer and more inclusive world of work, OpEd by Ms Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi.

Comment | New Delhi, India | 19 September 2022
India accounts for one-sixth of the global population and for nearly half of the Sustainable Development Goals opportunity. With the ILO Centenary Declaration in 2019, our vision for the future of work in India is to support its forward march in achieving the SDGs for the benefit of the ‘people, planet and prosperity’ through partnerships.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, efforts were briefly halted, but swiftly restructured, to continue the mission. Global collaboration for a concerted vaccine rollout and economic recovery packages at various levels, have tried to bring relief to the economy and to the world of work.

Countries must build forward better with inclusive and productive economies, cohesive societies and good governance that bring about job-rich recovery, growth and sustainable enterprises.

The number of countries facing conflict, fragility and natural disasters, aggravated by climate change, has increased in recent years. In times of crisis, emerging economies face the dual challenge of striking the delicate balance of protecting the labour force and coping with the adversities brought about.

Building a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable world of work, as affirmed by the ILO constituents’ Global Call to Action in 2021, requires first and foremost, protecting the rights of all workers and fostering safe and healthy working conditions, which boost productivity and result in sustainability. The ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) provide the foundation to build just and equitable societies. They help promote a culture of social dialogue and safe workplaces, raise enterprise productivity, increase decent jobs and social protection, and are the gateway to formalizing the informal economy, which employs the majority of India’s working population.

Emerging economies are tasked with accommodating the labour market’s needs at the speed at which they transform, wherein workers and businesses are already grappling with high informality, skills mismatches leading to insufficient wage growth, among others. The ILO’s latest projections, the World Employment and Social Outlook Trends and Global Employment Trends for Youth, have forecasted a deficit in hours worked globally, equivalent to 52 million full-time jobs in 2022, with youth unemployment rising by 32 million jobs by 2030. This calls for an urgent, parallel need to invest in the youth while enabling the working population to acquire new skills, reskill, and upskill to be future-ready in the face of digital transformation. With the rapid growth of gig and platform work in the last few years, targeted investment in digital technologies and universal broadband coverage by 2030 could increase employment by 24 million new jobs worldwide. Skills development and lifelong learning are fundamental enablers of decent work, productivity and sustainability that have the power to raise the value and output of labour, empower the lives of workers and enrich societies.

Evidence suggests, Indian women workers were among the hardest hit by the pandemic while shouldering the burden of domestic and care work in homes. The ILO conducted a study with SCOPE in 2021 on the “Impact of WfH on Women Executives and Managers in PSEs in India“, finding a need for clear demarcation of working hours and work-life balance achievable if policies and infrastructure are in place to make working at home productive. The pandemic witnessed employers and workers negotiating flexible work arrangements through social dialogue, which is at the heart of ILO’s Decent Work Agenda. In accordance, employment policies must be made conducive to bringing in more women and persons from marginalized communities into the workforce, contributing to increasing the female labour force participation rate. This will also require codifying freedom from violence and harassment at the workplace.

Countries must build forward better with inclusive and productive economies, cohesive societies and good governance that bring about job-rich recovery, growth and sustainable enterprises. A just transition encompasses measures to reduce employment losses and the industry phaseout of workers, enterprises and communities due to climate change, while providing adaptable and targeted strategies to produce new, green, decent jobs and sustainable enterprises. Investments in clean and renewable energy, construction, sustainable agriculture, recycling and waste management by implementing green and blue policy measures can create some 8.4 million jobs for young people by 2030. However, as these sectors are traditionally male-dominant, policymakers must continue addressing the barriers faced by women when accessing the labour market and formal employment.

Businesses have the responsibility to respect human rights, which means acting with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and providing greater avenues for remedies and redressal. International Labour Standards provide a framework for the global economy’s growth that benefits all stakeholders, and their application helps ensure that in a globalizing world, all women and men have fundamental rights and dignity at work while promoting sustainable development.

The pandemic has compelled restructuring systems in a manner that promotes social cohesion and economic stability. Focussing on promoting International Labour Standards, transitioning to a green economy, making the world of work more gender-equal, promoting lifelong learning and skills development, and ensuring all fundamental rights and principles at work are guaranteed, are the Panchatantra that can help India and the global economy become more inclusive, resilient and sustainable for a better future of work.

This article was originally published on ET Edge.