Innovation is the key to manage challenges of the future

Ms Dagmar Walter, Director DWT for South Asia and India, provided a keynote lecture at VIASHVIK 2020, an annual event of the MA Globalization and Labour course at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.

Statement | Mumbai, Maharashtra, India | 15 February 2020
  • Namaskar and Good Morning!
  • Dean Ms Palo
  • TISCO Chair Professor Sharad Sawant
  • Other Dignitaries and speakers,
  • Esteemed faculty members,
  • My dear students from Tata Institute of Social Science and other universities,
  • Colleagues and friends,
A very warm welcome to all of you. Attending this conclave, ‘Vaishvik 2020’ at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Asia’s oldest and prestigious social work institute, is indeed an honour for me. I was intrigued by the resemblance of vision shared by the University and the International Labour Organization - both are striving to respond to changing social realities; both have prioritised social justice and universal peace and most importantly, both believe in application of knowledge for ‘human-centered’ development. I am glad to represent on the dais of this academy of excellence, whose mission is aligned with that of ours.

India is a founding member of the ILO and we share a hundred years of history together. I would love to talk about it in detail, but it would need another lecture. Let me show you a brief video about the ILO to sum up our journey in India.

Like the ILO, TISS has a great legacy of contributing to the development of India. TISS alumni have not just proved their fineness in academia and businesses, but have also led examples of transformative actions in the field. It reflects upon the capacity and virtue of the institution and awards it a rightful position in India’s development story. I must acknowledge the ingenuity of the University and the Centre for Labour Studies here, to introduce a relevant programme like - MA in Globalization and Labour. I am certain that it makes a judicious contribution to address gaps between ideal and real scenarios of labour welfare in this country.

While, we have gathered here to discuss ‘the new world of work’, allow me to begin by providing you with an overview of global employment and social trends, based on the ILO’s recent World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2020 report that was just released.

As a matter of fact, the report underlines that over the past 18 years, average per capita growth has been only 1.8 per cent in low-income countries and the gap between lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income countries has widened. The pace and type of economic growth in low‑income countries is clearly endangering the efforts to reduce poverty and it has hindered potential improvements in decent work.

Secondly, the total labour underutilization is more than twice as high as unemployment. The report identifies that globally 188 million are unemployed, while 280 million wish to work more paid hours or could potentially enter employment in the near future. We are missing out on the potential benefits of a huge pool of human talent.

Third, even when people have a job, there remain significant deficiencies in work quality. Many of the 3.3 billion employed worldwide in 2019 did not have adequate income or decent working conditions. Out of these, 1.4 billion are own-account and contributing family workers in low- and middle-income countries, who are typically employed informally. Altogether, around 2 billion workers worldwide are informally employed, accounting for 61 per cent of the global workforce.

Fourth, substantial inequalities prevail in the access to work and work quality. In 2019, the female labour force participation rate was just 47 per cent, 27 percentage points below the male rate (at 74 per cent). Moreover, new ILO data on labour income (for all workers, including the self-employed) demonstrate that, at the global level, income inequality is far greater than previously thought.

Unemployment, poor quality jobs, work-related inequalities and exclusions will have profound and worrying implications for social cohesion.

The Indian labour market scenario resonates with the ILO’s WESO report as well. An estimated 77 percent of India’s workforce is in vulnerable employment, which is characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity, and difficult conditions of work that undermine workers' fundamental rights. Recently, the Indian periodic labour force survey data was released, and it confirmed the steady decline in female labour force participation rate, besides the thin presence of women in leadership roles. Further, we see the female labour force dominating the low paid informal economy sector such as in agriculture, construction, and domestic work. As future professionals, each one of you has the potential to act as change agent to address barriers to enable women participation and leadership in the workforce.

For shaping our new world of work, the premise seems challenging. We need to be mindful of the rapid transformations currently taking pace. These are unprecedented in pace, scope, and effect and are being driven by technological innovation, by demographic shifts, by climate change, by globalization and its counter reactions. The socio-economic analysts are rightfully asking questions about the uncertainty of the fourth industrial revolution, whether it will eliminate more jobs than it will create? Whether the existing skills of employees will remain relevant? How will it affect the social fabric, poverty, equality and peace?

The technological advancement can change not only the production processes but the very nature of work itself. The digital revolution is blurring the identity of the employee - employer relationship, as in the case of gig or platform economy. The current models of social protection and employment rights do not seem to apply or be readily applicable to these jobs of the future.

Looking at the critical nature of these challenges, our current approaches may fall short in achieving our dream of decent work for all as desired in the Sustainable Development Goals, laid out in the global Agenda 2030, and it’s implemented at national level.

The ILO has undertaken an elaborate initiative around the future of work by holding national consultations and establishing a Global Commission on the Future of Work in 2017. The recommendations by the Commission formed the basis for the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, which was adopted by the ILO constituents, representatives of governments, employers and workers, including those from India, at the Centenary ILO Conference in June last year, which was attended by some 7000 delegates and over 30 Heads of State. The Declaration calls above all for a ‘human-centred approach’ to the future of work – an agenda that recognizes that human welfare with no-one left behind, to be the ultimate aim and objective of all public policies.

The Declaration essentially points to three critical areas of investment.
  • Investing in people’s capabilities
  • Investing in the institutions of work
  • Investing in decent and sustainable work
Investing in the capacities of people so they can benefit from the opportunities of a changing world of work. People need access to lifelong learning and quality education. We need to promote gender equality in opportunities and ensure measures are in place that support people through the transition in the world of work.

Second, - investing in the institutions of work to strengthen governance and service delivery for better outcomes in the labour markets and the world of work as a whole. In particular ensuring adequate protection and fundamental rights for all, access to bargaining processes, provision for minimum wage, limits of working time and, most importantly, safety and health at work.

Third, - investments in sustainable employment of the future –

We need to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all, which is further elaborated in SDG 8 and other goals. This embodies the ecological as well as the economic and social dimensions that have long figured in the ILO’s agenda. This very much speaks to the enabling environment for sustainable enterprises.

So governments, workers and employers have adopted this guiding framework for the new future of work we need to shape, and we will need to capitalise on the political support it generated.

However, some questions will need more specific answers. For example: how can we deliver lifelong learning in a growing informal work setting and gig economy platforms? Will it be the responsibility of government or private sector or the employees themselves? Will the countries or sectors be able to gauge the required shift in skills? How are we going to make just transition to a carbon-neutral, sustainable future, generate green jobs? These are areas where we need innovative thinking and not just that – but immediate action.

I believe that academic institutions such as TISS will have a dynamic role to play in seeking innovative solutions for these issues. You have the capacity to shape the debates and knowledge around the world of work and I appreciate your active participation through organization of dialogues such as these. The students here, would take up roles of managers, analysts or researchers in future. I wish to appeal to you that we need an out of the box thinking and innovative approaches to address these challenges of the future of work. In our journey to shape the new world of work, the steering would be the ‘human-centered’ approach and remember that you are in the driver’s seat.

I must congratulate the students who have taken effort in planning and execution of this event and also thank the sponsors whose investments have provided indispensable support in organization of this event.

Thank you for kind patience and attention.