Social justice is fundamental for transforming the youth population into a skilled workforce

Inaugural speech at the 63rd Indian Society of Labour Economics (ISLE) Conference by Mr Satoshi Sasaki, Officer-in-Charge and Deputy Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi.

Statement | 01 March 2023
  • Hon’ble Minister for Education, Arunachal Pradesh, Shri Taba Tedir
  • Vice Chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi University, Prof Saket Khushwaha
  • President ISLE, Professor Deepak Nayyar
  • Prof Ramesh Chand, NITI Aayog
  • Professor Alakh Sharma, Director, IHD
  • President ISLE conference, Prof Jeemol Unni
  • Organizing Secretary, Prof Vandana Upadhyay
  • Policymakers, Academia, Scholars, Colleagues and Friends

Namaskar, and a very good day to you all!

It is my pleasure and honour to be here with you today for the 63rd ISLE Conference as we deliberate themes of critical importance to this post-pandemic world of work. I would like to express my gratitude to the Hon’ble Minister for Education, Arunachal Pradesh, Shri Taba Tedir, for his eminent presence today at this rich and diverse academic conference that would appropriately explores the themes of youth employment, rural labour markets diversification and the long-term impacts of the pandemic on the global economy.

We are coming out of a great period of uncertainty and upheaval that the COVID-19 pandemic caused. We all lost loved ones and faced immense personal and professional challenges. The world of work that we knew it has been altered. Globally, enterprises, especially small and micro, were severely impacted, while precarious working conditions for workers came to the fore. The global economy and labour market are in different stages of recovery across regions. However, India has seen a better recovery, and its GDP growth is the highest among the G20.

With India currently leading the G20 presidency, the country is at a historic juncture to pave the way in achieving human-centred growth that is based on the principles of social justice. We are now at the halfway mark of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We pledged to “leave no one behind”, and it’s time to honour that by enhancing labour employability, bridging skill gaps, ensuring workforce development and social security and addressing new forms of employment.

This pledge starts with the youth. India has the world’s youngest population, thereby, the world’s youngest workforce. These youth are, not only the future of work but also the present world of work. School and higher educational institute closures during the pandemic had the ripple effect of skills gaps, which is a deficit confronting countries globally. The share of youth not in employment, education or training (so called NEET) needs to be addressed. Special focus also needs to be on opportunities for young women, who are at a higher risk of falling out of education and skilling owing to care responsibilities. What the youth need is a well-functioning labour market with decent work for those already in it and skilling and educational opportunities for those yet to enter it.

To this effect, the emerging green, blue and digital economies are ripe with opportunities for young people. Green and blue policy measures can create 8.4 million jobs for young people, and investment in universal broadband coverage will allow one-third of all jobs to go to young people, by 2030, according to ILO estimates.

The Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals were envisioned to make progress towards achieving social justice, which is fundamental to helping the global economy recover, given the long-term impacts of the pandemic. Global solutions to new challenges and opportunities must be centred around human, environmental, economic and societal values, as ILO Director-General Gilbert H. Houngbo has articulated through his vision of the Global Social Justice Coalition. The Coalition will bring together ILO tripartite constituents and the relevant organizations of the multilateral system and contribute to reducing and preventing inequalities and act as a platform to elevate the political debate on social justice and strengthen understanding of the urgent need for social justice and the economic case for increased investment.

Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work are the bedrock of the world of work. As we strive to get back to the pre-pandemic trajectory of economic growth and development, we must do so with the lessons learned in the last three years that have demonstrated the ways in which we must build back better. To ensure this, we must strive for ensuring active social dialogue, better conditions for workers, raising enterprise productivity, more and better jobs and social protection, and formalizing the informal economy. Creating decent work for youth and helping the economy recover from the pandemic’s lasting impacts will not be possible without achieving universal social protection. Public spending on social protection needs to be increased to create economies that work for people and not just workers who work for the benefit of economies. Social dialogue is critical for advancing social and industrial peace and stability and boosting economic progress based on better working conditions. Micro and small enterprises are the backbone of the country, as they make up a lion’s share of the economy.

There is a need for a concerted effort to improve the status of livelihoods by promoting policies supporting micro-entrepreneurship and job creation. Innovative and effective employment policies, including skills and training, are needed to boost productivity and shared prosperity. This will, in turn, also benefit labour productivity.

The dynamic Indian population has the potential to transform into a skilled workforce with access to social protection, to meet the objectives of economic development without compromising their well-being. We must continue to work together to promote social justice through the framework of the decent work agenda. We must remember that we can strengthen labour markets, increase productivity and ensure everyone benefits from shared prosperity.

With these words, I encourage you all to continue your valuable research on topics related to decent work and to nurture evidence-based policymaking for the better future of work we want to see!

Thank you, and my best wishes for a fruitful conference!