Employee excellence is built on a culture of trust and involvement, which nurtures talent and fosters innovation

Special address by Ms Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi at the Economic Times Employee Excellence Summit 2022

Statement | Mumbai, India | 22 September 2022
Government representatives
Business leaders
Our constituents from employers and trade unions
Media, Economic Times’ representatives,
Esteemed participants
Good morning and Namaste to you all!

I want to start by congratulating you all today for representing businesses and business models that braved the recent years of pandemic, putting people first and shaped cultures that represent employee excellence.

Since 2020, the world has realized the precarious conditions that most employment exists in, as people lost their jobs and didn’t have adequate health coverage or social protection when dealing with a pandemic crisis. Moreover, as jobs digitalized, the labour market became harder to access for some, also exposing the skills gaps in the workforce, calling for upskilling and reskilling to adapt to the needs of a changing economy and labour market.

This includes adaptation to the climate crisis, which is already affecting countries like India, urgently requiring far greater coordination to enable a just transition to an environmentally sustainable economy and prevent widespread devastation from occurring, but we also need to harness the opportunities to generate more green and sustainable jobs in the course of this adaptation.

Businesses and industries are therefore currently addressing crises on multiple fronts. At the same time we see that in many countries and economic sectors, there is a shortage of workforce and a great difficulty to find and attract qualified talent, let alone to retain it. What some called ‘the great resignation’, saw employees and workers drop out of the labour force or turn to other careers and new ventures during the pandemic.

To be a successful enterprise today definitely requires focusing on employee wellbeing and development, to keep them engaged and collectively strive for excellence. Part of this is to bring on board a diverse workforce, and I just wish to mention one important element here and that is to do away with discrimination and harassment in the World of Work. Ratification of the International Labour Standard on Violence & Harassment, ILO Convention 190, would go a long way in this regard. You may wish to advocate for this. Already before the pandemic, there was a global consensus that the high levels of inequality between nations and within countries, as well as between men and women, have adverse social, economic and political consequences. The pandemic exacerbated inequality and job losses, with the latest ILO projection forecasting a deficit in hours worked globally equivalent to 52 million full-time jobs, according to the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook 2022 Trends report.

As economic and social transformations continue globally, countries, regardless of their stage of development, must answer this fundamental question: What will be the jobs of the future, and what competencies will they demand?

Globally, there is a persistent gap between the skills needed in the labour market and those offered by the workforce. This places an urgent demand on individuals, companies and countries to acquire new skills, reskill, and upskill to adapt to the new normal and be future-ready, especially in the face of digital transformation. Skills development and lifelong learning are fundamental enablers of decent work, productivity and sustainability that can raise the value and output of labour, empower the lives of workers and enrich societies.

In 2019, the ILO constituents, that is, Governments, Employers and Workers, adopted the Centenary Declaration for the future of work with a human-centred approach, which focuses on 3 investments, namely:

increasing investment in people’s capabilities,
increasing investments in institutions of work, and
increasing investment in decent and sustainable work for sustainable economic growth

Since 2020, the UN has resolutely pushed for ‘Building Forward Better’, in line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. And the ILO’s 2021 “Global call to action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient” affirms this.

We must realize that the pandemic has hurt young workers the most. Young people were less likely to be in more senior roles in their organizations and hence more likely to lose their jobs. According to the ILO’s recent Global Youth Employment Trends report, the total global number of unemployed youths is estimated at 73 million this year, a slight improvement from 2021 but still six million above the pre-pandemic level of 2019. Young women are also worse off than young men, with a much lower employment-to-population ratio.

One form that has attracted the young workforce is gig and platform work, which is replacing traditional work for many. While there are fundamental issues related to privacy, security and the divide between rich and developing nations on digital platforms, which require global collaboration to solve, the gig and platform economy have opened up new avenues to access the labour market. Technology is redefining economic relationships between workers and clients or employers globally, as platforms restructure how work and work processes are organized.

Investment in digital technologies and achieving universal broadband coverage by 2030 could lead to a net increase in employment of 24 million new jobs worldwide, of which young people would take around 6.4 million. ILO's 2021 flagship report, "The role of digital labour platforms in transforming the world of work", highlighted how these platforms have given rise to benefits like flexible work arrangements, including for women, persons with disabilities, and youth, but also created challenges for workers' wellbeing and working conditions, especially in middle- and low-income countries.

These challenges include missing out on the benefits of traditional workplaces like paid leave, minimum wages, limited working hours, collective bargaining and social protection, as the onus is shifting from the employers onto the workers to ensure the availability of these benefits. Additionally, workers struggle to find sufficient well-paying work.

In India, the ILO carried out a study with SCOPE (state owned enterprises) on women in leadership positions in Public Sector Units and interestingly found that many women-executives had cited the Work from Home arrangement as an influential factor in not only facilitating a better work-life balance but also advancing their careers.

Further, India has a large agricultural and manufacturing economy, which, being energy and resource intensive, calls for a just transition to ensure the continuity of the sectors in a sustainable manner that is not degrading the environment. These two sectors can generate green jobs that limit greenhouse gas emissions, minimize waste and pollution, and improve energy and raw material efficiency, ultimately contributing to low material footprints and ecosystem restoration. Also here, we have the potential to create some 8.4 million jobs for young people by 2030 through the implementation of green and blue policy measures.

ILO constituents agree that a critical component of a just transition is the practicing of Occupational Safety and Health measures in every workplace, guided by international labour standards and tools, to prevent disease, injury and death arising from employment and work. A safe and healthy work environment is so central that the tripartite constituents of our 187 member States decided to uplift OSH to become part of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, amending the Declaration from 1998, which already referred to the elimination of child and forced labour, elimination of discrimination, and the right to organizing and collective bargaining. Improving Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, including OSH, throughout any business and supply chain, will have a positive impact on improved employee experience, productivity and quality of produce and services, improved worker health and safety, lower absenteeism, lower health costs, reduced impact on the environment, to name a few benefits.

Businesses faced challenges like supply chain disruptions, revenue losses, liquidity crunches, reduced staff morale, and a shortage of labour through the pandemic, however, they also reported COVID-19 mitigation measures that emphasized worker wellbeing, which we documented in a recent publication called “Good employee relation practices in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and lessons learnt: India”. We did so in collaboration with two major employers’ organizations AIOE and EFI. Surveyed member enterprises, reported how they implemented measures to improve communication in order to maintain worker morale, keep workers informed, and facilitate business operations, all while addressing the pandemic’s uncertainties through social dialogue.

Companies and businesses like yours have a golden opportunity to shape the future of work with young men and women who are now entering the labour market by leveraging these opportunities, demonstrating empathetic leadership, and investing in the youth.

By building a culture of trust and involvement, businesses can nurture their talent, which leads to enhancing the employee experience. The foremost way to achieve this is by engaging in social dialogue and collective bargaining. Work arrangements arrived at during the pandemic are a leading example of how employers and workers negotiated agreements, including on work from home and teleworking, which was mutually beneficial to both parties. This further helps achieve employee excellence, as engaging and retaining the workforce through difficult phases helps build resilience and ensure business continuity, which fosters innovation.

India Inc has survived the worst of the pandemic and looks towards adopting more sustainable systems that work in tandem for employers and workers. As the International Labour Organization, I wish you all every success in realizing workplaces that establish cultures that are socially responsible, promote employee welfare and support the sustainable development of the country.

Thank you all for your kind attention!