Pandemic has called for revisiting the need for universal social security

Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO-India, provided opening address at the ILO-IHD Virtual Consultative Workshop on “New Social Security Code and Strengthening Social Protection System in Eastern India”

Statement | New Delhi, India | 24 September 2021
Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar, Shri Tripurari Sharan, 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 social security code and strengthening the social protection system in Eastern India.

We are still living in the times of COVID-19… the need to convene this workshop in a virtual mode is a reminder of this reality… even though the enormity of the situation may be less visible as compared to the past months.
COVID struck at a time when globally, a majority of the population was unable to access basic social protection. Only 45% had access to some element of social protection and only 29% were covered by comprehensive social security systems throughout their life cycles.

The COVID crisis revealed the gaps in social protection systems across all countries, regardless of their income level. It underscored the importance of strengthening and expanding social protection systems: to reach vulnerable persons; to protect lives and human dignity; and to provide hope.

The socio-economic recovery from the pandemic remains uncertain.

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. Over its centenary long life, the ILO has been dealing with various emergencies and economic depressions. Building on its experience, the ILO immediately started regular monitoring of the world of work impacts and provided policy recommendations

The ILO’s Global Call to Action agreed with the constituents during the 109th session of the International Labour Conference earlier this year, highlighted the urgency for a human-centered recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by promoting universal social protection.

The call to action reiterated the need to adapt to the developments in the world of work and set up social protection systems that are resilient, effective, inclusive, adequate and sustainable.
Earlier this month (1 September 2021), the ILO issued its flagship report, "World Social Protection Report 2020-22: Social protection at the crossroads – in pursuit of a better future”.

The report highlights that: Despite the unprecedented expansion of social protection during the peak of COVID19 crisis, more than 4 billion people around the world remain entirely unprotected.
Investment in social protection is crucial for building a better future of work; More sustainable and equitable financing and international solidarity are needed to strengthen national social protection systems that will benefit us all. Social protection can create many social and economic benefits for countries at all levels of development. In the given context, the efforts of the ILO constituents in India towards prioritising the agenda of social protection, is of greatest significance. Let me take a moment to 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.

One of the ILO’s core mandates is to set the minimum standards on labour issues and there are 16 up-to-date standards on social protection. Out of all, there are two main ILO standards on social security and social protection. These are:
  • Convention No. 102, which is Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention adopted in 1952; and
  • Recommendation No. 202, which is Social Protection Floors Recommendation adopted in 2012
In the process of national consultations on the draft versions of India’s code, the principles of these ILO standards have been consistently shared with the Government. In this spirit, the ILO is ready to support constituents both at 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 floor focusing on four social protection guarantees in the life cycle:
  • social protection for children,
  • working-age,
  • old-age, and
  • health protection.
With only 9 years remaining to achieve the 2030 Agenda for SDG, 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 the 2030 Agenda for SDG on 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 not an exception. One of the common challenges on social protection observed in South Asia is a lack of social protection coverage of the so-called “missing-middle”. Most of the ‘missing-middle’ are informal workers with extremely limited or no social protection coverage provided. Under the new social security code, the extension of social protection to unorganized workers, gig workers and platform workers through registry system 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 probably prompted us to revisit the importance and necessity of universal social protection in the country, it is also important 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. This is the third open tripartite social dialogue opportunity on social protection after the adoption of the social security code and I sincerely hope that this workshop will provide a platform for leveraging upon ideas and 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 during this event.

Thank you for your kind attention!