Pandemic underlined the need for universal social protection

Ms Dagmar Walter, Director ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi spoke at the inaugural session of IHD-ILO Virtual Consultative Workshop on New Social Security Code and Strengthening Social Protection System in South India.

Statement | 16 February 2021
Distinguished members on this virtual dias; 

Representatives of tripartite constituents at national and state levels;

Esteemed participants;

Namaskar and good morning to you all!

It is indeed a great pleasure and privilege for me to make an opening speech at this event focusing on the new Social Security Code and strengthening the social protection systems in South India. Social protection is one of the most pertinent agendas in the current times of global CODIV-19 pandemic. Let me upfront salute the efforts made by the Indian health sector, in particular health workers who have not spared their efforts to stand up to and tackle the COVID-19 challenge posed to the world.

Globally, still a majority of the population is unable to access basic social protection. Only 45% have access to some element of social protection and only 29% are covered by comprehensive social security systems throughout their life cycles. Since January 2020, the world has been facing new and enormous challenges due to COVID-19. But at the same time the present situation gave us an opportunity to recognize the importance of well-functioning social protection systems and the necessity to review whether or not the present system is sufficient enough to protect people from risks and adversities in their life cycles.

The International Labour Organization was among the first to identify that the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis, but a social and economic one too. Economies and labour market situations throughout the globe have been disrupted, exposing the protection gaps and calling for strengthening of national social protection floors as a top priority on countries’ policy agendas.
Over its centenary long life, the ILO has been dealing with various emergencies, crises and economic depressions. Building on its experience, the ILO immediately started regular monitoring of the world of work impacts and provided policy recommendations along four pillars, which are to:
  1. Strengthen the use of international labour standards to guide the response;
  2. to, Stimulate economic and labour demand and support employment;
  3. to, Protect workers through social protection and measures on occupational safety and health; and
  4. to, Enhance tripartite social dialogue among government, workers and employers for mutually supported solutions.
Concerning international labour standards, one of the ILO’s core mandates is to set the minimum standards on labour issues and there are currently 16 up-to-date standards on social protection. Out of all, there are two prominent flagship ILO standards on social security and social protection. These are:
  • Convention No. 102, which is Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention adopted by the tripartite constituents in 1952; and
  • Recommendation No. 204, which is Social Protection Floors Recommendation adopted by the tripartite constituents in 2012.
In the process of national consultations on the various draft versions of India’s new Social Security Code, the principles of these ILO standards have been consistently shared with the Government. As this juncture, we stand ready to support the implementation at both the national and state levels; with the aim that mutual efforts would ultimately lead us to achieve universal social protection in India.

Globally, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledges a pivotal role of universal social protection ensuring its coverage, access and quality. It promotes nationally defined social protection floors, focusing on four social protection guarantees in the life cycle, being:
  • social protection for children,
  • working-age,
  • old-age, and
  • health protection.
With only 9 years remaining to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, I sincerely hope that this regional workshop will give an opportunity to boost national, regional and state-level consultations on how to prioritize necessary actions to achieve universal social protection coverage in India.

In the rapidly changing world of work, complex drivers and labour market trends have been creating both challenges and opportunities for social protection and India is no exception. One of the common challenges observed in South Asia is a lack of social protection coverage to the so-called “missing-middle”. Most of the ‘missing-middle’ are informal workers with extremely limited or no social protection coverage at all. Under the new Social Security Code, the extension of social protection to unorganized workers, gig workers and platform workers through registry systems has been included. The first step of legitimization has been accomplished and now it is time to support the implementation through tripartite social dialogue both at central and state levels.

Finally yet importantly, I would like to state that while the pandemic has prompted us to revisit the importance and necessity of universal social protection in the country, we also have to realise that universal social protection cannot be achieved in one day. There are many social protection schemes that would need to be considered in each state, consulted upon and prioritized. I sincerely hope that this workshop will provide ground for exchanging the views by national and state stakeholders on improving social protection systems in the country.
I wish all of you very fruitful discussions here today.

Thank you for your kind attention!