EBMOs have a crucial role in promoting skills development, job protection, enterprise sustainability and adapting to digital transformation in India

Inaugural address by Ms Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO/DWT-CO New Delhi, at the CII–EFI National Conference on Industrial Relations

Statement | New Delhi, India | 12 December 2022
Esteemed members of the dais

EFI and CII office bearers and members

ILO Governing Body Member, Mr Rajeev Dubey

Government, business and worker representatives

Media, colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be with you today at the inauguration of the CII – EFI National Conference on Industrial Relations. Let me at the outset congratulate CII and EFI for your efforts in making this happen.

I am very happy to note that the theme of your conference and the thematic sessions cannot be more relevant to our world of work today and more particularly to India.

Enabling employment, inclusiveness and human-centric growth are very much part of the ILO’s agenda and much work has been done on it. This was also echoed in the “Singapore Statement” just adopted by the tripartite constituents in the 17th Asia Pacific Regional meeting last week.

In June 2021, the constituents at the International Labour Conference adopted the Global Call to Action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient. It promotes:
  • Inclusive economic growth and employment
  •  Protection of all Workers
  • Universal Social Protection and
  • Social Dialogue.
I am sure you will see how these issues resonate closely with the thematic forums of today’s programme. The ILO is committed to support governments and social partners in this endeavour by a series of additional measures. Including:
  • Promoting an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprises.
  • Boost Productivity through diversification and innovation
  • Harnessing the full potential of technological progress and digitalisation, including platform work, to create decent jobs.

In this context the ILO is devising decent work strategies for the changing world of work. And as many of you would know, as a tripartite organ of the UN, the ILO works closely through our constituents like the EFI, in both designing and implementing these strategies.

The evolution of ILO as an organisation promoting social justice since 1919 is characterised by some salient features and significant recent developments:
  • ILO’s standard-setting mechanism, which is the foundation on which it promotes social justice, is based on equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal treatment of all workers.
  • ILO’s mandate of promoting "Decent Work" is equally committed to protection of workers' rights and to the sustainability of enterprises that contribute to a job-rich growth in India.
  • The focus on an enabling environment for sustainability of business and enterprises was further strengthened at the International Labour Conference in June this year, when the constituents elevated Occupational Safety and Health as one of the core Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This means that ILO member states must respect and promote the fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment, whether or not the country has ratified the relevant core conventions 155 and 187.
Against this backdrop, technological innovation has brought unprecedented transformation to jobs, businesses and markets. Demographic shifts, and the impact of climate change and the need for greater sustainability, are strong drivers of change and adaptaions in the labour market. The skills needed in this new scenario are often in short supply. The question of how to face the future and seize the opportunities it offers is preoccupying individuals, companies, institutions, governments and entire societies.

The ILO Bureau for Employers’ Activities and the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) undertook a study in 2019 to ascertain the changing trends and seek new opportunities for Employer and Business Member Organizations. The study revealed that five global trends are shaping the way businesses operate across the world:
  • Technological innovation
  • Global economic integration (although this one is being challenged now)
  • Demographic and generational shifts
  • Climate Change and sustainability
  • Global shortage of skilled labour.
How can Employer and Business member Organisations respond to these changes ?

Today EBMOs are challenged not only to offer services to members but also give direction to policy issues shaping the future of work. Let me share Four initiatives that EBMOs may consider responding to the challenges of a changing world of work.

Firstly, EBMOS need to take the lead on making evidence-based interventions to influence policies for Skills-development. Today we witness a tremendous thirst for entrepreneurial skills. There is a growing interest for self - employment with the rise of the gig economy. The choices that millennials and Generation Z make are disrupting both society and business. Thanks to such choices, the gig economy—in which people have flexible or contract work with one or more firms—is becoming a growing market.

At the same time, it is also a reality that India needs to do much more, on one hand, to capitalize on the demographic dividend of a young population; and on the other, do all we can to retain and attract more women in the workforce.

To this end, there is a pressing need to influence formative education to become increasingly gender-sensitive and to include imparting of entrepreneurial skills in the curricula. If these skills are imparted, at formative stages young women and men will be better prepared and inspired to find and create decent work opportunities as successful entrepreneurs. This would immensely help in improving national productivity and achieving a job-rich growth, while creating a more equitable society for both women and men. EBMOs need to develop an evidence - based strategy to influence policy makers to promote this agenda.

Secondly, EBMOs need to promote enterprise sustainability and job protection as an integral part of Social Protection. One of the key messages that have emerged as a result of the impact of the pandemic is the need to have an innovative approach to Social Protection. The impact of the pandemic exposed the vulnerability of many social protection schemes across the world. It was apparent that in many countries these schemes were unable to respond to the fundamental issues of enterprise sustainability and worker protection.

The International Labour Conference last year had a special committee on Social Protection.

Two important recommendations emerged:
  1. To strengthen social protection systems, ensuring effective coordination between various schemes and programmes, reducing fragmentation and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of benefit and service delivery, guided by international social security standards.
  2. To leverage inclusive social dialogue in all its forms, by meaningfully involving social partners in the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of social protection policies and strategies, and in the governance of national social security systems and social security funds.
ILO in India has a Project for providing ‘Technical support to ESIS for improving and expanding access to health care services in India – A transition to formality’. The Project findings revealed challenges surrounding awareness, access to benefits, and its adequacy. Based on its findings, the project has developed a theory of change with specific recommendations for strengthening the Employees’ State Insurance Scheme’s performance in service delivery and utilization. We are glad to acknowledge that this project benefitted immensely from the insights and inputs from senior representatives of the EFI. ILO hopes to continue to work with the ESI Corporation of India and its tripartite constituents, including the EBMO's, to improve the health outcomes for workers and their families.

Thirdly, EBMOs need to give direction on New work arrangement modalities with digital transformation of work. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, work arrangement practices changed and everyone had to adjust to the ‘new normal’, when digital connectivity became the life - line of working life.

Working from home and remote working became the norm rather than the exception. EBMOs are challenged to respond to new issues that come with such new forms of work arrangements. New policies, Guidelines, are needed as studies show that tomorrow’s workplace may well be a hybrid one. Performance management, work life balance, and managing a hybrid work force will form part of the advisory portfolio of EBMOs in the future.

Fourthly, EBMOs need to respond to the needs of the fastest emerging workforce in the gig economy in India.

I am happy to say that the ILO Bureau for Employers’ Activities is currently working on a study on the gig and platform economy in India with specific focus on how EBMOs like CII and EFI can offer value-added services.

EBMOs have an important role in the context of the platform economy, as they provide the leadership necessary to facilitate social dialogue on working conditions, economic and labour policies needed to create sustainable and balanced growth with social security for platforms and platform workers. Further, with the gig and platform economy emerging as a key driver of the future, shaping people’s access and operations on the labour market, EBMOs cannot afford to stay out of the conversation.

And in addressing all these four and more issues, I am glad to say that ILO will be steadfastly by your side. We are in fact close to finalizing the next India 5-year Decent Work Country Programme for 2023-27. I take this opportunity to thank the EFI, especially Mr. Choudhury, for valuable contributions to the drafting process of the DWCP. This programme is unique in being the collective articulation of the will and aspirations of our tripartite constituents - the employers, the workers, and the government. It takes up the mammoth challenge of meeting the ILO's global objectives and the Sustainable Development Goals of India under the UNSDCF. But we are confident of fulfilling these objectives to improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of workers and employers in India, for we have the able, courageous and principled support of our partners like the EFI and CII.

Lastly let me once again express my deep appreciation to CII and EFI for organising this important and timely conference, which I am sure will have rich deliberations.

I wish you all a productive National Conference on Industrial Relations !!

Thanks for your kind attention.