Decent Work Country Programme

India’s strategic vision on decent work: A global game changer

Remarks by Tomoko Nishimoto, ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, on the launch of the India Decent Work Country Programme 2018-2022.

Statement | New Delhi, India | 20 November 2018
  • Respected ILO constituents,
  • Valuable partners,
  • Colleagues from UN agencies,
  • Members from the media,
  • Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good morning to all of you.

Today is an important day for India. A day to live by the famous words of Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.
Considering the attendance in this room today it seems a lot of us are trying to live by his wise words.

Please allow me to congratulate each one of you involved in shaping the India Decent Work Country Programme for 2018-2022. It is a strategic blueprint that is both pragmatic as well as visionary. It is also an expression of the ILO’s contribution to the country’s development priorities and how it can be a global game changer.

Now before going to some specifics on India and the India Decent Work Country Programme, I would like to share with you some important key storylines that have emerged in the recent publication we launched last week – Asia and the Pacific Employment and Social Outlook (APESO). The storylines resonate the situation of India very well.

What is new is that we have an extremely positive growth context in the region.

The first message is: the economy has been growing and jobs are abundant. The emerging and developing countries in the region have averaged 7.6 per cent annual GDP growth between 2007 and 2017. This was enough to lift 8 countries from low-income to middle-income status. Labour productivity growth in the region has also outpaced the global average. A good mark for the economic growth.

Then we have not-so-good stories behind this success in terms of the labour market outcomes.

One out of three workers in the region live in moderate or near poverty in 2017 – so the situation of working but poor persists for many.

Nearly one in two workers remained in vulnerable employment. The vulnerable employment rate had shown a decline over time – from 52 per cent in 2010 to 48.5 per cent in 2016, but it has since started to creep up again.

This means that the economic growth has not brought about sufficient creation of paid work for the region’s expanding working population.

What about job security or income security? The data are showing us that wages have increased to a certain extent, but then so has consumption and household debt, which in turn add to income instability.

What happens when a household member is injured and can no longer work?

What happens when an ageing parent moves back in with a son or daughter as another mouth to feed?

What happens when a family’s crops are destroyed by a flood and there is no one left to send abroad to earn money elsewhere?

What happens is that those hovering just above the poverty line, a big portion, move back into circumstances of working for survival.

There is an incredible degree of fragility behind the growth record in the region.
With few countries in the region with a fully functioning social protection system that could stabilize household income levels and ease the impact of economic shocks, a secured pathway to sustainable and inclusive economic growth for the region is by no means guaranteed.

Another particular point that irks me is that gender gaps are on the rise again! Particularly in Southern Asia. The gender gap in Southern Asia is already immense at 51.2 pp in 2017, rising to 51.5 pp in 2020.

You will note that I have not even touched upon the issues of technology, ageing, climate change, trade protectionism … all of the elements that threaten the continuity of growth and social development in the region.

One cannot help feeling extremely concerned by looking at these numbers and stories emerging in the region. A fair sharing of the benefits from the formidable economic growth remains a persistent challenge in Asia and the Pacific.

India is no exception. This country has stood at 7%+ GDP growth rate. It is a vibrant and youthful nation. India is also one of the largest middle-income countries in the region experiencing a growing disconnect between growth and inclusiveness, measured through income inequality.

In terms of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our research shows that countries in Asia and the Pacific are still very far from reaching the targets linked to decent work and sustainable growth, not just Goal 8, but also Goal 10 to reduce inequality, Goal 1 on the target linked to expanding social protection, Goal 4 on skills development and Goal 5 on gender equality. I must admit the stories are not encouraging…

Can India turn this around? Can India find solutions and approaches to its many Gordian knots such as —a large informal economy, challenging youth unemployment, inequalities, access to social security, skills development, entrepreneurship, gender gaps, and transition to a greener economy?

We have gathered here to say “Yes” to these questions. Often seen as an agent of change in international forums such as the G20 Summit, BRICS and now the International Solar Alliance, India shows an unflinching commitment to the SDG agenda, and has taken decisive steps towards a sustainable economy by pushing for clean energy.

We are here to renew our resolute in contributing towards India’s effort in addressing the decent work deficit. We are launching the DWCP, which we hope will become a cathartic game changer.

Decent work is a “locomotive” – if you will - for sustainable development. Putting decent work at the heart of economic policy-making and development plans, not only generates jobs but also more robust, inclusive and poverty-reducing growth. It is a virtuous circle that is as good for the economy as it is for people and one that drives sustainable development.

Decent work puts money in the pockets of individuals and families so that they can spend in their local economy. Their purchasing power fuels the growth and development of sustainable enterprises, especially smaller businesses, which in turn are able to hire more workers and improve their pay and conditions. It increases tax revenues for governments, who can then fund social measures to protect those who cannot find a job or are unable to work.

Decent work for all reduces inequality and increases resilience. Policies developed through social dialogue help people and communities cope with the impressive changes unfolding on globalizing labour markets, while facilitating the transition towards a more sustainable economy.

I do not have to go on. We are here to move on with what we know is the best for India. We are sending a strong call for an increased investment by our tripartite constituents in the stabilizing elements that are embedded in the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda – promoting decent jobs, guaranteeing rights at work, extending social protection and promoting social dialogue. We stand ready to support in every way possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, in 2015 the ILO launched the Future of Work Initiative. Member States were encouraged to undertake national dialogues to reflect on the dramatic transformations in the world of work and ascertain strategies to cope with and harness the potential of these changes. Hundreds of national dialogues took place worldwide, including in India.

These dialogues generated an impressive momentum to exercise policy wisdom ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth across sectors and regions. We heard people from all background and age, including the youth, here in India, speak up about their vision for the future. These dialogues shed light on many aspirations: Investing in skill development, scaling-up entrepreneurship opportunities, ensuring decent working conditions, gender parity, and rural employment. These are areas which require concerted and consistent effort and action.

In the wake of these dialogues, a high-level Global Commission was nominated to examine the key challenges raised by a changing world of work and make recommendations to address these challenges. The Commission will release its report in January 2019. The report will be discussed at the centenary session of the International Labour Conference in June. I would like to urge you to consider the outcomes from these FoW discussions during the implementation phase of the Decent Work Country Programme in order to make it even more forward-looking and agile.

The world of work is changing faster than ever across all sectors and at every layer of society. We must continue to enhance our understanding of emerging trends, and improve labour market governance, legal frameworks, institutions, and policy approaches as needed.

Lastly, I want to say that India, as a founding member, has always been a strong ally of the ILO. Together, we have been scripting a progressive world of work story since 1919. A century of “working together” of which you saw glimpses of in the video before. Tremendous political will and collective commitments have helped us come this far.

While we will celebrate the ILO’s 100 anniversary next year, we will also celebrate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. Let us be, together, the change that we wish to see in the world, a change that works for all.

Thank you all for your attention.