Inaugural of Workers Information Support Centre (WISC) in Vishakhapatnam

Remarks by Mr Satoshi Sasaki, Deputy Director, ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia and Country Office for India.

Statement | New Delhi | 02 November 2022
It is indeed a great pleasure and an honour to physically participate in today’s launch event of the Workers Information and Support Centre – WISC in Vishakhapatnam. In recent years, the world of work is witnessing uncertainty due to the speed of change that has increased greatly driven by globalization, automation, digitization, demographic changes, global warming and other environmental issues, and others. To keep pace, both workers and employers are forced to continually upgrade their market survival strategy, by being flexible and innovative. COVID-19 pandemic and related market disruptions has further exposed the extreme vulnerabilities of workers in almost all the economic sectors due to the lack of job protection, absence of access to income and livelihood support, precarious working conditions, and exclusion from social protection. Workers, especially women and migrants, in the MSMEs and informal economy, have been the hardest hit.

Trade Unions and Workers’ Organizations have a major role to play to ensure that policies and measures adopted by a state to catalyse economic growth and respond to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, and equitably benefits all, by reflecting the interest and voice of workers. Evidence-based advocacy efforts and informed participation in policy making by unions is critical, reminding all the major value addition in an economy is primarily due to the efforts and skills of workers, and technology cannot replace labour. MSMEs are the second largest employer in India after Agriculture. This is also a sector which witnesses compromises in working conditions by the employers in order to sustain business competitiveness. For these reasons, promotion of sustainable enterprises is a priority for the ILO, as evidences globally show that it is the poor management practises including limited understanding of the MSMEs on the link between productivity and working conditions, that often is the cause for resource inefficiency, non-performance, and eventual closure of MSMEs. It is therefore paramount that the workers in the MSMEs are sensitised and capacitated to protect their rights, access policy measures, and contribute to productivity improvement in dialogue with management in their workplace.

The KOICA funded ILO Project, ‘Promoting Sustainable Enterprises in India or PSEI’ aims at creating an enabling environment for promotion of sustainable enterprises in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. It has particular focus on the MSMEs in two labour intensive sectors - food processing, in particular, fisheries, and garments. Women dominate the workforce in these sectors, and Andhra Pradesh in particular, it is also dependent on migrant workers. Most often these workers are in non-standard forms of employment, including as contract workers or daily wagers, and they are required to work in workplaces which violate core labour standards, in particular, forced and child labour, and non-payment of minimum wage or equal pay. The workers are also subject to discrimination and harassment. Unfortunately, most MSME employers are unaware of the impact on the efficiency and productivity of their own enterprise due to this.

It is in this context that the WISC in Vishakhapatnam is hoped to play a significant role by bringing MSME workers together, especially the unreached and voiceless workers, with the principle aim of protecting and defending their labour rights. With the initial support from KOICA funded PSEI Project, this WISC will be a Trade Union hub providing information, counselling services and trainings to MSME workers. It will also build capacity and facilitate workers to organise for collective action and engagement with MSME employers for sharing gains, and with policy makers for sound protection measures.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Central Trade Union members of Joint Action Forum (JAF) for coming forward to establish this WISC, and their efforts in the last two months to translate the vision on paper into concrete action. I wish to congratulate JAF members and thank for valuing the trust and partnership that ILO has enjoyed with you for more than 100 years in India.

In closing, I would like to remind that launch of WISC is just the beginning for providing unified support to the MSME workers, the sustenance of it will depend on outreach to both member and non-member workers, and timely and quality of service delivery to them.

Thank you for your kind attention.