Our response to COVID-19 pandemic should be rooted in social dialogue

Satoshi Sasaki, Deputy Director, ILO-India, provided opening remarks at the World Vision – India webinar on Livelihood during the Pandemic- Challenges and Opportunities.

Statement | New Delhi, India | 31 August 2021
All the dignitaries,

Noted speakers,


Namaste and Good afternoon

It is my pleasure to join this important discussion on ‘Livelihood during the Pandemic – Challenges and Opportunities’ and I congratulate the organizers for their timely effort. The meaningful insights shared on this platform by the recognized experts should effectively contribute towards shaping the recovery from this pandemic. ILO was among the first to identify that the COVID-19 is not just a medical crisis, but a social and economic one too. It has disturbed the economies and labour markets globally. ILO was quick to respond to the fallout caused by this pandemic based on its 100 years of experience, which includes dealing with previous emergencies and economic depressions. We regularly monitors on COVID-19 and the World of Work and periodically released estimates of the impact on income and employment. Besides, it also provides policy recommendations to deal with the situation under four pillars, which are to:

• Protect workers at the workplace;
• Stimulate economic and labour demand;
• Support employment and incomes; and
• Use social dialogue between government, workers and employers to find solutions.

This policy response framework was carefully drafted keeping in mind the global socio-economic diversity. It aimed at promoting inclusive and sustainable recovery from the pandemic. But I must mention that developing countries like India have to deal with a few unique challenges, such as high levels of informality with many workers working in precarious conditions and economic units, especially the micro and small units reporting low productivity. As a major setback during the pandemic, we all witnessed the tragic outflow of urban migrant labourers from cities back to villages. ILO’s latest analysis on ‘Impact on labour supply due to COVID-19 containment measures in India’ shows, the lockdown measures directly affected 104 million informal workers. Without access and sufficient coverage of social protection, and secure livelihood opportunities, these workers are on the verge of falling back into the poverty trap. ILO’s Rapid Assessment of COVID-19 impact had earlier underlined that half of the country’s women were outside the labour force, representing around 508 million women. Post pandemic, they will face escalated challenges in returning to work. The crisis has affected quantity of jobs and quality of employment. It has put already vulnerable groups, who are also mostly engaged in informal economy, such as migrants, women, youth, disabled, tribal people and economically weaker groups at further risk – depriving them of their livelihoods. Enterprises in the travel, tourism, hospitality, food service, retail and manufacturing sectors have been especially hard-hit, with large portions of their workforce witnessing layoffs. For most enterprises, production disruptions plummeted demand for many goods and services, which have forced them to suspend or scale down operations, with enormous impacts for workers and employment.

We have witnessed governments announcing fiscal and monetary measures to support the economy and enterprises. They are essential to ensure survival of businesses, to keep incomes and jobs protected. However, equal focus is needed on enabling social protection for all. Access to health care services and paid leave will provide sense of security and ensure effective work participation. We need a few more urgent and inclusive measures to improve the status of livelihood. Policies that promote micro entrepreneurships and job creation need attention. For example, employment intensive investments are needed in high growth sectors. Green businesses need to be identified and developed for enabling decent work in such emerging areas. Local area development that promotes local employment and livelihood need to be encouraged. Policies that promote formalization of informal economy, incentivizing businesses to grow and be sustainable and competitive. Low interest business loans and credit facilities are some of the approaches to ensure livelihood recovery. Investment in up-skilling and re-skilling of workers is essential. On priority, there is a need to capacitate people with digital and new age skills, including nurturing an innovation culture. We must implement our responses ensuring equity and inclusiveness. Our ‘New Normal’, should be responsive to the diverse needs of people and should integrate and address challenges related to gender, age, social origin, disability or sexual orientation. This mainstreaming of issues and concerns of workers and businesses needs attention irrespective of nature of businesses or employment, whether formal or informal. Our recovery efforts from this pandemic need to be derived from the process of social dialogue and should be rooted within globally accepted International Labour Standards, which have been developed with the consensus of ILO tripartite constituents.

Let me cite a few examples from the ILO’s responses in India. Through, Start and Improve Your Business or SIYB training, we have managed to train 10,000 youths, especially women during the pandemic to establish alternate sources of livelihood through entrepreneurship. Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises (SCORE) training in partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) and corporates is currently guiding more than 100 MSME suppliers on business continuity, quality and productivity management, which is helping them to ensure employee retention. Jointly with All India Organisation of Employers and FICCI, we also set-up a helpdesk to support enterprises with registration processes and business continuity knowledge. In parallel, the ILO provides capacity building and training services to the cooperatives, collectives and producers groups enabling them to adjust to the ‘New Normal’ of the marketplace. Along with social partners, we support workers in the informal economy, especially in the lower tiers of the supply chains, working in micro or homebased enterprises or as homebased workers. We also worked with trade unions who identified, organized and unionized homebased and informal workers, provided trainings on alternate skills, and enabled access to government COVID relief packages and social security schemes.

Our efforts need to be embedded within the Decent Work Agenda as enshrined in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 8. It calls for a collective effort, and not a one sided government or worker or business response alone. We need a public private partnership not just at the national level but also at the global level as well. Recently, governments, workers and employers' delegates from ILO Member States have unanimously adopted a Global Call to Action for a Human-Centred COVID-19 Recovery that prioritizes the creation of decent jobs for all and addresses the inequalities caused by the crisis. To do this, we need innovative approaches, including harnessing digital technology and infrastructure, green technologies and new ways of learning, while ensuring that we leave no one behind when it comes to generating livelihood during the pandemic.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I said, COVID is not only a health issue, but also social and economic one as well. While medical workers are making their best efforts to protect people from corona virus, we must do more on social and economic aspects. This is why we are here today. I thank you again the World Vision for this opportunity for the ILO to share our views. Thank you audience for your patience for listening to my words. I look forward to a fruitful discussion ahead.

Thank you and Namaste.