Labour pain

Guy Ryder | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on July 14, 2016


What is the future of work in India?

The world of work is changing with unprecedented rapidity. This has brought both great uncertainty and fear of change. Therefore, as the International Labour Organization (ILO) approaches its centenary, it is embarking on an important reflection, on the future of work.

The future of work is very much dependent upon India. India is the world’s fastest growing major economy, with a large youth population. And, the buzz in India makes me believe that the importance of these issues is understood. We are structuring our Future of Work’ debate around four ‘conversations’.

The conversations

First, work and society. We make an error of economic reductionism if we believe that the significance of work is limited to its capacity for material provision. Certainly with Decent Work, there is a notion of self-realisation, of being part of society.

The next conversation is about where the jobs will come from. 10 million young people are entering India’s labour market every year. Where are those jobs coming from? And what will they look like?

The third conversation is around the organisation of production. There is a lot of talk about the increase in global supply chains, the cross-border fragmentation of production, and the organisation of production in ways not seen before. The fourth conversation is about what we do about all of this? How do we govern the world of work?

Change agents

I see four mega-drivers of change emerging. The first is technology. It is said we are on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution. If you look at the past three industrial revolutions, whatever turbulence they brought, they created more jobs than they destroyed. Will it be the same this time?

The second mega-driver of change is demography. India has the largest youth population in the world, but this has both pros and cons. There is no more destabilising factor in society that I know of than large-scale youth unemployment.

The third element is climate change. The future of work will be green or it won’t be sustainable.

The fourth mega-driver of change is something that is still crystalising in my mind. I detect a growing defensiveness towards globalisation, a pulling back of countries, sometimes with a defensive, nationalistic-sort of sentiment. Globalisation, in its current form, is being questioned.

In the face of these trends India seems to be set upon shaping its own future with determination and confidence. However there are domestic challenges that should not be forgotten. The first is gender. It is a source of worry that of the G20 countries only Saudi Arabia has a lower level of women’s labour force participation than India. More alarming is that labour participation is going down, not up.

Secondly, issues related to formalisation of the economy should be addressed. 93 per cent of the workforce in the informal sector is a dramatic statistic.

Finally, poverty. Last year the UN membership adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with the objective of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. Rightly, criteria related to creating Decent Work are woven into the SDG’s and their indicators.

But despite enormous progress, one of every four poor people in the world lives in India. So, it’s no exaggeration to say India’s success in tackling poverty will define the 2030 agenda’s success, and the success of 2030 agenda will be India’s success.

The writer is Director-General of ILO

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Published on July 14, 2016
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