Businesses need to innovate and adapt to harness opportunities in the rapidly changing world of work

Keynote Speech by Mr Satoshi Sasaki, OIC/Deputy Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi at the EFSI ER Conference 2023: Business dynamics and HR value creation

Statement | Chennai, India | 18 August 2023
On behalf of the ILO, I am pleased to be here with you at your national Employee Relations Conference. I take this opportunity to congratulate EFSI for its continuous service to employers for over 100 years! EFSI represents 750 Employers in the Southern India. It is the oldest Employers’ Body in the Southern Region. The testament to its success lies in its resilience and adaptability to the periodic, successive changes in the political, economic, and social environments, and at the same time, maintaining its primary goal and objective of promoting the interest of employers through sustained activities. I am particularly impressed that this Employers’ conference is “Employee” centric. This is an EMPLOYEE RELATIONS conference, focusing on business dynamics, the changing landscape of Human Relations and HR value creation. I would like to say that business dynamics are changing constantly. The change is mainly powered by people. People include the employees. Therefore, HR value creation and business dynamics are integral parts of the modern world of work.

As you know, the ILO, which was formed over 100 years ago, is founded on the overarching idea of social justice. It is founded on the premise that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is established on social justice.” The means to achieve social justice is through social dialogue. ILO’s tripartite mechanism, which consists of governments, employers and workers, is unique. It makes it the most appropriate international organization equipped to contribute to social development through a process of tripartite dialogue, which ensures that all relevant stakeholders have their interests represented at the global level. A conference such as this needs to be futuristic in its approach. We have heard of “Future of work”. The future is shaped in the PRESENT. How do we make our Future WORK? We need to balance the interests of workers and employers.

Employment is sustainable only so long as Enterprises remain competitive and sustainable. The ILO acknowledged that the Promotion of Sustainable Enterprises is fundamental to job creation and growth. The International Labour Conference of 2007 had a special discussion by a committee on the promotion of sustainable enterprises. The Committee agreed on the following requirements for sustainable enterprises:
  • Conditions for a conducive environment for sustainable enterprises.
  • Role of the government in promoting sustainable enterprises.
  • Enterprise-level principles for sustainable enterprises.
  • The role of social partners in the promotion of sustainable enterprises.
At the ILC in 2021 the ILO adopted the Global call to action for a human-centred recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that is inclusive, sustainable, and resilient. It clearly emphasised the need to support business continuity and creating an enabling environment for innovation, productivity growth and sustainable enterprises, including micro, small and medium enterprises, recognising the important role of sustainable enterprises as generators of employment and promoters of decent work. In 2019 ILO and IOE collaborated in undertaking a survey on “Changing Business and Opportunities for EBMOs.” The report revealed five major trends that are shaping the way businesses across the world operate. Technological innovation, global economic integration, demographic and generational shifts, climate change and sustainability, and a global shortage of skilled labour are impacting businesses regardless of size, sector, and location, with major implications for the Employer and Business Membership Organizations (EBMOs) that serve and represent them.

As the pace of this change accelerates, policymakers, businesses and EBMOs need to innovate, adjust, and become more flexible to harness opportunities and remain relevant in the rapidly changing business environment. With these envisaged trends in the world of work, the ILO’s mandate to promote social justice is drawing increasing attention. What we need to determine are the pre-requisites for social justice considering the realities and challenges of the world of work.

India has been a founding member of the ILO since its inception in 1919. Being the largest democracy in the world, India has consistently upheld and followed the Principles of Social Justice, which has been the foundation of the ILO over the years. Notwithstanding the many labour market challenges, India’s rich cultural heritage and values have helped the social partners over the years to strive for Social Justice through many proactive initiatives with the assistance of the ILO.

India signed the ILO Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) in December 2022 for a period of five years (2023-27). India’s DWCP is clearly anchored to the national priorities on generating adequate decent productive job opportunities, creating sustainable livelihoods for its citizens, ensuring adequate social protection systems, particularly for the workers in the informal economy, enabling sustained participation of women in the labour market, creating an ecosystem for skilling, and promoting a culture of innovation-based entrepreneurship.

Let me give a quick snapshot of some of the key ILO initiatives in these areas. Since 2021, with support from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the ILO is working closely with the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha to support Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to sustainably integrate them into the global supply chain, in alignment to Decent Work agenda, and generate more and better quality jobs. At the same time, we are working with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), International Organization for Migration (lOM), and the UN Women to ensure that labour migration is safe, orderly and regular for all women and men from Colombo Process Member States through strengthened collaboration and effective migration governance. The ILO has also developed a longstanding partnership with the ESIC to support its strengthening towards making a strong contribution to India’s mission for universal health coverage. These and many other such development cooperation initiatives are geared towards supporting our constituents in India.

You may be aware that we work closely on a regular basis with our employers’ representative organizations – the All-India Organization of Employers (AIOE), the Employers’ Federation of India (EFI) and the Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE). I am proud to acknowledge that our constituents are the fountainhead of our energy and aspirations. I am glad to acknowledge that all our constituents, including the EFSI, have expressed inspiring faith in our partnership through their innovative projects. The AIOE is currently in the process of developing a Migration Coalition for Social Dialogue to facilitate an active role for employers in addressing the concerns of migrant workers together with the trade unions and the governments in 3 states. EFI recently concluded a successful hybrid Certificate course in Industrial Relations & Employment Laws for young HR professionals and trade unionists. SCOPE, on the other hand is working closely with us to develop sectoral skills strategies for public sector enterprises so they can actively align the skill levels and job profiles of their managerial staff with the National Skills Qualification Framework.

At the same time, with keen support from state governments, we have initiated some far-reaching efforts to strengthen labour dispute prevention and resolution systems in some parts of the country. Moreover, in partnership with the V V Giri National Labour Institute (VVGNLI) and the Kerala Institute of Labour and Employment (KILE), we would be shortly launching a short-term certificate and a diploma course on social dialogue and industrial relations. I hope I was able to give you a good glimpse of what our partnership can achieve in concrete terms. I am sure that in the coming days you will see EFSI playing a leading role in our work in Southern India.

Finally, let me conclude by mentioning three important areas that EBMOs like EFSI need to focus on as it continues to serve its members. Firstly, EBMOs must take the lead on skills and provide guidance to policy makers. There is a huge mismatch between the skill set required by the industry and that possessed by the majority of the workforce. This gap is further widening with the fast-paced changes in technology and business operations. Bridging this skill gap will be essential to boost productivity. It will be critical to strengthen partnerships with institutions engaged in skill development to guide the design of Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) course and for its periodic revision in line with industry requirements. Developing local skills based on skill anticipation for local or regional economic development needs to be promoted. Secondly, EBMOs must take an active part in social protection. India is a model country for South Asia with variety of social security schemes. A recent study undertaken by ILO in relation to ESIS revealed that there was a lot of opportunity for improvements in administering the benefits and creation of awareness. These are issues which EBMOs may think of pursuing through advocacy. In addition, with the inclusion of platform and gig workers under the new social protection code, the EBMOs will have to play an important role with other stakeholders. Finally, EBMOs need to respond to the reality of the changing work arrangement models with the digital transformation of work. The COVID pandemic brought about a revolution in work arrangements. Work arrangement practices changed overnight, and everyone had to adjust to the ‘new normal’. Digital connectivity became the lifeblood of working life. It is a fact that many organisations have continued to retain some of such work arrangements and adopt hybrid work models. Here again, it is an opportunity for EBMOs to step in with guidance and direction.

I note that you have a packed agenda of very interesting topics for discussion. I wish you all fruitful deliberations and thank you once again for the opportunity given to ILO to be with you today.