Why inclusion is everyone’s work and business: ILO imperatives for a more inclusive future and post-pandemic world of work

By Mr Bryan Balco, Project Manager on behalf of Mr Khalid Hassan, Director, ILO Country Office for the Philippines at the Philippine Workplace Inclusion Forum, 30 April 2021, Manila, Philippines via Zoom

Statement | Manila, Philippines via Zoom | 30 April 2021
A safe, inclusive and splendid morning to all of you! The International Labour Organization Country Office for the Philippines (ILO CO-Manila) is pleased to keynote this first-ever Philippine Workplace Inclusion Forum. The ILO sees its role not only as setting the tone for today’s discussions but also as affirming its ultimate objective: the building of a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable world of work.

Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, inclusion has become a buzzword in recent years. Even the Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022) acknowledges the need to have a “more inclusive growth.” With this pandemic, inclusion will certainly continue to be not just a buzzword but a guiding principle for government, business and civil society. 

At its most basic, inclusion simply means bringing everyone to the table. However, at its profoundest, inclusion is about a sense of belongingness, a sense of togetherness, especially in our workplaces.


While inclusion has become a buzzword in the past few years, there have been challenges in realizing it. COVID-19 has made the work of inclusion more difficult, and in some instances, it has also led to inclusion’s opposite: exclusion. Both Filipino workers and companies have experienced firsthand the exclusionary impacts of the pandemic: workers were displaced, businesses closed shop and many felt excluded.

The Philippine economy went into a recession, after posting two consecutive quarters of negative growth last year. Unemployment also hit a record-high of 17.7 per cent in April 2020. Although unemployment has since tempered a bit, ordinary Filipinos continue to bear the socioeconomic brunt of this pandemic, especially in the face of resurging COVID-19 cases in the past weeks. 

While the pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another, its impact on people has been unequal and uneven. On a global scale, the ILO has observed that COVID-19 has weighed down more on vulnerable groups, such as women, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV, LGBTQIA+ persons and indigenous peoples.

Around the world, working women have found themselves “double-burdened” by the need to balance both family and work responsibilities. COVID-19 has more than doubled the burden that many women have been carrying even before. Unpaid care remains the top constraint to women’s workforce participation. Meanwhile, persons with disabilities find it difficult to practice social distancing, thereby leaving them more vulnerable, if not supported.

Similarly, people living with HIV may not receive continued care and life-saving anti-retroviral medicines, due to fears that going out for help could expose them. Likewise, LGBTQIA+ persons and couples, in places where their rights and unions are not legally recognized, may struggle in accessing social welfare programs due to heteronormative definitions of the family.

While COVID-19 has presented us with extremely difficult challenges, they are not insurmountable. This pandemic offers us a chance to re-shape our world.

Businesses will play an important role in building a post-COVID-19 future. As leaders in your respective fields, you should not miss this opportunity, especially if we are to build back better from this pandemic.

And where better to re-imagine a newer and more inclusive world than in our own workplaces? And where better to re-start this work of inclusion than with our own workplace and business policies? Socially responsible business practices and inclusive workplace policies must start right at our office entrances and conference rooms. This is the best way that inclusion will not just be a buzzword but rather a concrete policy-turned-into-reality.

ILO Practical Guide and Approaches to Workplace Inclusion in the time of COVID-19

For the ILO, socially responsible business practices demonstrate not only companies’ commitment to their corporate values but also their contribution to the decent work agenda. While doing corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects is one way to demonstrate business consciousness , incorporating inclusion and diversity in hiring policies, making workplace accommodations, strengthening grievance machineries and labour-management relations and promoting social dialogue and healthy collective bargaining agreements would be the concrete steps that companies can take towards institutionalizing inclusive and socially responsible business conduct, practices and initiatives.
The ILO Multinational Enterprises (MNE) Declaration provides a guidance on how responsible business conduct and workplace policies can incorporate labour standards.

Meanwhile, the UN Global Compact provides a framework for inclusive, sustainable and socially responsible business practices.

Four of its ten principles are based on ILO core conventions, namely, respecting workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, eliminating forced or compulsory labour, abolishing child labour and eradicating employment and occupational discrimination.

The ILO’s 2016 Practical Guide on Promoting Diversity and Inclusion through Workplace Adjustments offers real-world prescriptions for inclusive workplace policies. While this Practical Guide might be from five years ago, its proposed recommendations on “reasonable adjustments/accommodations” can be considered as prescient, especially when seen in today’s pandemic, and can be applied in large or small enterprises.

Reasonable adjustments promote workplace diversity and inclusion because they respond to workers’ particular situations that would require accommodations, which could arise from reasons, such as family responsibilities, domestic violence, disability, HIV status, chronic illness, social barriers against indigenous peoples, and care for gender-transitioning persons.

Reasonable adjustments aim not to reduce workloads and employer obligations but to help disadvantaged workers fully enjoy the same rights, benefits, wages and opportunities as others. Doing so benefits companies in terms of workplace harmony, labour productivity, and avoidance of costly litigations and higher attrition rates. Workplace adjustments and inclusive policies also make strategic business sense and results.

A research on employees with or without disabilities by L. Shur, et al (2014), cited in the 2016 ILO Practical Guide, assessed workplace adjustments in eight US companies, with about 100 interviewees and focus group participants and about 5,000 workers surveyed online. It found out that, because of workplace adjustments, nearly 60 percent of managers said worker productivity improved, almost 72 percent of employees said they would likely stay with their companies, and 65.2 per cent said their stress at work was reduced.

In a 2017 ILO survey of 13 Caribbean countries and territories covering about 675 companies, results showed that 46 per cent gained positively from gender diversity policies in terms of increased reputation, better talents and even increased profitability, with some estimating their returns between 5 to 15 per cent of their bottom-line.

Meanwhile, a 2018 UBS Policy Brief on the Commercial Case for LGBT Inclusion cited a study by Pichler, et al (2018) that showed a positive correlation between LGBT-inclusive workplace policies and firm productivity, with US LGBT-friendly companies yielding 3 per cent higher productivity rates.

For its part, the ILO Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (GEDI) Branch has cited some best practices and workplace adjustments anchored on an intersectional approach to support disadvantaged and vulnerable workers in the midst of COVID-19:

  • On women, many Western countries supported workers with care responsibilities through telework, expanded family leaves and income support for health workers. In Australia, employers have monitored incidences of domestic violence, cyberbullying and online harassment in cases of telework arrangements. In the United Kingdom, businesses have launched an Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse to protect employees vulnerable to domestic violence. Globally, the ILO is campaigning for the ratification of C190 to end gender-based violence.
  • On disability, the Specialised Training and Disability Centre of the Employers Federation of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) came up with policy recommendations on reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities who are working onsite or from home. The UK Trades Union Congress also issued a guide on addressing telework issues of workers with disabilities. Meanwhile, business and disability networks in both Bangladesh and the Philippines have engaged in facilitating job matching services and re-skilling trainings for disabled persons.
  • On people living with HIV, a multi-sectoral response to COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS is being pursued in South Africa by providing COVID-19 and HIV awareness training for workers. In Mozambique, persons living with HIV were given start-up business trainings. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Business Coalition also collaborated with the ILO to support persons living with HIV through an income generation toolkit.
  • On LGBTQIA+ persons, both the Indonesian National Employers Association and the ILO Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises (SCORE) Project have collaborated to support transgender persons to undergo intensive virtual business coaching and adapt their businesses to the pandemic.
  • On indigenous peoples, the ILO has suggested developing culturally appropriate COVID-19 information materials, ensuring their inclusion in social welfare and health programmes, supporting indigenous cooperatives, and encouraging employers and workers organizations’ collaboration with indigenous peoples.
As part of its Action Plan for Gender Equality, the ILO CO-Manila is also organizing activities that promote workplace inclusion among its social partners from government, labour and employers.

These include a gender and social inclusion assessment of groups underrepresented in the Philippine technical-vocational education and training system, a CSR training on women empowerment for future business leaders, a research on MSME gender-responsiveness, and sexual diversity trainings for ILO staff and partners.

Ways Forward for Philippine Companies on Building A More Inclusive World of Work

Having enumerated all these ILO workplace best practices, the question that many of you are now probably asking would be, “Is it feasible to do all these things?” The short answer is yes.

The Philippines already has existing laws and policies (including ILO conventions it has ratified) that can guide Filipino companies in implementing their own inclusive and socially responsible business and workplace practices benefiting their employees and families.

They include the Magna Carta of Women, Magna Carta of Persons with Disabilities, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, Philippine HIV/AIDS Policy Act and Occupational Safety and Health Law. Philippine companies can draw from the best country practices on workplace inclusion and diversity, as cited by ILO, especially those on women, LGBTQIA+ persons, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and people living with HIV.

Adopting inclusive workplace policies gives companies an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to building a better, more compassionate and more caring future of work. Making workplaces inclusive and diverse would help attract the best talents, minds and hearts needed in a new, post-pandemic world.

Finally, pursuing socially responsible business practices and inclusive workplace policies is one way to promote a sense of ownership and corporate citizenship among company employees. Inclusive workplace policies must not be another top-down kind of approach. Instead, it should be democratic and truly inclusive by ensuring that employee unions/associations and the entire workforce, especially the disadvantaged and vulnerable workers, are part of the process.

At the heart of workplace inclusion and diversity is social dialogue, one of the key four pillars of the ILO’s decent work agenda. Through social dialogue, the voice, representation and participation of workers are not just simply heard or seen but are strengthened and institutionalized.

With that, the ILO wishes to thank each one of you, especially the organizers, for inviting us to be a part of this first-ever Philippine Workplace Inclusion Forum. We hope that we were able to provide you practical ideas and common sense solutions to the challenges facing our world of work today. Let us work together towards promoting decent work, achieving sustainable development and building a better and more inclusive post-pandemic tomorrow. Thank you!