The ESIC is pivotal in harmonizing social security coverage for the Indian economy

Address by Mr Satoshi Sasaki, Deputy Director/OIC, ILO DWT-CO New Delhi at the ESIC Conference on ‘Better healthcare and social security to the workers’.

Statement | 24 February 2023

Mr Bhupender Yadav, 
Honourable Union Minister for Labour and Employment; and Union Minister for, Environment, Forest and Climate Change,

Shri Mr Rameswar Teli, 
Honourable Minister of State for Labour and Employment; and Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas,

Ms. Arti Ahuja, 
Secretary, Ministry for Labour and Employment

Ms. Neelam Shami Rao, 
Central Provident Fund Commissioner, EPFO

Dr Rajendra Kumar,
Director General, ESIC

Respected representatives of the employers’ and workers’ organizations

Distinguished colleagues of the ESIC

Ladies and gentlemen…

Namaskar and a very good morning to you!

It is an honour to stand here with you today to celebrate the completion of 71 years of service by the ESIC. And I am proud to share that the ILO's partnership with the ESIC goes beyond the 7 decades of the ESIC's formal existence. We all know that the ESI Scheme was developed between 1942 and 1948, with key moments being the Adarkar Committee's "Report on Health Insurance for Industrial Workers”, the Sixth Indian Labour Conference of 1944, and finally the legislation of the ESI Act in 1948. What many of you may not know is that the ILO had been working closely with the Govt. of India through this entire process - beginning its efforts for social insurance policies in the 10th International Labour Conference in 1927, its submissions to the Royal Commission of Labour in India in 1930, and its continued cooperation with the tripartite constituents on the design of the ESI Act, under the leadership of the visionary Dr Ambedkar between 1942 and 1948.

Therefore, it is no coincidence that today after 7 decades, as the ESIC is prepared to turn the leaf to a new era, the ILO stands by its side to envision a future where all workers have the effective human right to health, without facing the risk of catastrophic health expenditure. Our commitment to the ESIC’s mission remains emphatic and articulate as in the India Decent Work Country Programme 2023-27, launched on 20 December 2022. For the ILO, “Establishing universal social protection and realizing the human right to social security for all is the cornerstone of a human-centred approach to obtaining social justice”.

The ESIC has emerged as the flagship for realising India's twin goals of universal social protection and universal health coverage. Covering more than a tenth of India's population with 6 social security benefits, the ESIC is poised to play a pivotal role in modernising and harmonizing social security coverage for a range of sectors in the Indian economy.

With this view, the ILO has been working with the ESIC since 2019 with a two-pronged approach - one, of strengthening quality service delivery to the current beneficiaries of the scheme; and two, assessing the incentives and obstacles in extending the coverage of the ESI Scheme to new category of workers.

As part of this effort, the ILO has developed detailed assessments and recommendations for the ESIC. Our insights and proposals for transformative actions in the ESIC have benefitted from a unique alignment of priorities across all major stakeholders – the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the ESIC leadership, our tripartite constituents and many other stakeholders and beneficiaries. We have found that despite some challenges, the endorsement and support for ESIC’s crucial role in providing social protection to millions of workers in the formal and informal sectors is unanimous among all stakeholders.

With the visionary leadership and cooperation of the government and tripartite constituents, we see the ESIC is embracing its responsibility for a healthy and secure life for 130 million Indians – the number keeps growing. Of course, any forward-looking organization in the 21st century cannot do without state-of-the-art digital solutions to respond to the challenges of quality and scale. I keenly look forward to the upcoming sessions where esteemed panellists will shed light on the value of leveraging technology for next-generation health care in the ESIC and reaching the ‘unreached’ population with quality services. In anticipation, and in closing of my address today, I would like to share a few insights from our work with the ESIC:

1. It is time that in the ESIC, we shift our approach from a request-based model to a population-based model. I look forward to a day when the ESIC would reach out to a low-literacy, less aware worker and their family even if they have not been able to reach the ESIC. It would ensure, perhaps through annual health check-ups and a pro-active telephonic/digital service, that all its beneficiaries are in good health and those who are not, are immediately attended to. Such an approach would go a long way in meeting the targets we have set for ourselves under the 2030 agenda.

2. To realize this ambition, it goes without saying that the state governments and ESIC would have to build exemplary cooperation and synergies in their functioning. With the recent initiatives of the ESIC and more to come, we are confident that soon all beneficiaries in all states would find the same good quality services in an ESIC, ESIS or an empanelled facility.

3. And lastly, we remind ourselves that the ESI Scheme is unlike any other health insurance scheme. It is anchored in legislation and its operations are deeply influenced by the state of industrial relations in the country. So, it will ultimately rest on the shoulders of the employers and workers to mutually cooperate in driving the ESIC to take on ever new challenges.

I would like to thank Dr Rajendra Kumar for advancing our partnership, and of course having me here today. From the ILO, I extend the sincerest best wishes to the ESIC for reaching another milestone, and for the many more to come.

Thank you!