Strive to build the future of work you want

Ms. Walter Dagmar, Director, ILO DWT South Asia and India, addressed the future managers at XLRI – Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur, at seminar based on ILO’s centenary theme of ‘Future of Work’.

Statement | Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, India | 09 November 2019
  • Namaskar and Good Morning!
  • Respected Director Fr. P. Christie,
  • Dean Dr. Pani,
  • Chairperson Dr. Mishra,
  • Sister Reema Nanavathy,
  • Mr. Didar Singh,
  • Other Dignitaries on the dais and speakers,
  • Esteemed faculty members,
  • My dear management graduates and aspiring managers,
  • Colleagues and friends,
1. ILO and XLRI

A very warm welcome to all of you. It is my pleasure to visit one of the oldest and premier management schools in India, learn about its rich heritage, and its vision laid way back in 1949 - ‘to raise a responsible leadership striving for a sustainable future of this world.’

As an institution, XLRI holds a rightful position in the history of India’s business world, whose alumni have and are leading businesses to new scales, keeping the greater common good of humanity at its core. I do, of course, have the honour to be acquainted with one of these alumni – our dear Rajeev Dubey – current member of the ILO Governing Body.

‘People’ are at the core of competitive enterprises. It is the skills of the workers that determine the ability of businesses to effectively respond to market changes, sustain competition, and grow. However, the optimal productivity of employees is dependent upon the management practices and the organizational culture. Management schools such as XLRI provide an important nurturing ground and contribute to shaping the values, skills, and vision of future managers.

It is laudable indeed that the very foundation of XLRI in 1949, was laid as a Labour Relation Institute. Its first course on ‘Management and Trade Unions,’ drew the attention of new India to the significance of sound industrial relations. Undoubtedly, management schools such as XLRI have been an essential player in shaping the World of Work in India, and they will continue to shape the ‘Future of Work’ as well.

2. Future of work

We all are witness to the rapid transformations in the world of work, that is, unprecedented in pace, scope, and effect. It is being driven by technological innovation, by demographic shifts, by climate change, by globalization and its counter reactions. We are sceptical and worried about the ‘future of work’ as we do not know whether the fourth industrial revolution will eliminate more jobs than it will create. The technological advancement can change not only the production processes but the very nature of work itself. For instance, in the platform or gig economy, the identity of the employer is increasingly getting blurred as an algorithm allocates your work. The current models of social protection and employment rights do not seem to apply or be readily applicable to these jobs of the future.

ILO has undertaken a fairly elaborate initiative around the future of work by holding national consultations and establishing a Global Commission on the Future of Work in 2017. We have the presence of two of the commissioners, Sister Reema Nanavaty and Mr. Didar Singh today who will be speaking in detail on the findings and the report ‘Work for a Brighter Future’. The recommendations by the commission formed the basis for the ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, which was adopted by more than 6,000 delegates, representatives of governments, employers and workers, including those from India, at the Centenary ILO Conference in June this year. 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.

How do we get there? The Declaration essentially points to three critical areas of investment.

First - investing in the capacities of people so they can benefit from this 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 ensure adequate protection for all,

We want all workers to enjoy adequate protection and access to bargaining processes in line with the Decent Work agenda, ensuring their fundamental rights, 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. This embodies the ecological as well as the economic and social dimensions that have long figured in the ILO’s agenda. Let me just touch on three here:


Holding the largest youth and working population in the world, India has shown immense potential to drive this agenda for the future of work. However, there are challenges that need immediate attention.

- The Informal economy

An estimated 77 percent of Indians are in vulnerable employment, which is characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity, and difficult conditions of work that undermine workers' fundamental rights. ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) underlines the universality of eight rights, notably, freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, the abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation are universal, as they apply to all people in all States - regardless of the level of economic development. A cohesive strategy to catalyse a transition to a formal economy is, therefore, the need of the hour for a decent future of work in India.

In particular, workers in MSMEs and own-account workers representing 50 percent of the economy, are known to report low productivity, sickness, and low sustainability. While many of you may be aspiring to work in large firms and Multi National Enterprises, it is the MSMEs who can benefit from your managerial expertise.

As managers in large firms, you can influence MSMEs in the supply chain to improve management practices to enhance productivity and working conditions. The Multinational Enterprises Declaration (Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy) is the ILO instrument that provides direct guidance to enterprises - multinational and national - on social policy and inclusive, responsible, and sustainable workplace practices.

- The Female labour force participation

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 the future managers, each of you has the potential to act as change agents to enable women participation and leadership in workforce.

- Finally, the Climate change and environmental degradation

We are aware that climate change and environmental degradation are among the most significant challenges of our times. We need radical innovations to tackle its impact on the world of work. The ILO’s own research says that a green transition of the economy could create millions of new jobs, particularly in India. To benefit from these new job opportunities, people will need appropriate new skills. Re-skilling and up-skilling will be the most important survival mantra for all.

The questions which need immediate solutions are: how can we deliver this lifelong learning process? How will it be implemented? Who's going to take responsibility? Who's going to finance it? How are we going to make just transition to a carbon-neutral, sustainable future? These are areas where we need innovative thinking and not just that – but immediate action.

3. Closing remarks

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 implemented at national level.

Well, I think we need an innovation shock. We cannot simply continue on the pace of change that has become habitual in our work up until this point. It would not be wrong to expect from the management masterminds here, especially the young aspiring managers, to have the courage to think differently, courage to invent, to take the less-travelled path, courage to discover the impossible and to conquer the problems

It is for you to think about what is the future of work you want and strive to build that future.

Thank you for your kind attention!

You can access the video of this speech and programme at the link given below