India’s new agenda for social justice - Hindustan Times

India’s new agenda for social justice

ByHindustan Times
Feb 20, 2023 11:30 AM IST

Social justice is the bedrock of the International Labour Organization, (ILO) which was founded on the premise that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is established on social justice.”

Social justice is the bedrock of the International Labour Organization, (ILO) which was founded on the premise that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is established on social justice.”

Employer and business member organisations in India have been at the forefront of supporting the private sector. PREMIUM
Employer and business member organisations in India have been at the forefront of supporting the private sector.

The ILO remains the most appropriate international organisation 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. The working population, which constitutes a significant portion of the global population, has been crucial in discharging the ILO’s objective of social justice.

In December 2022, the ILO’s constituents signed the Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) for India 2023-27, which ties into the United Nations’ larger mandate in the country for the next five years.

India has been a founding member of the ILO since its inception in 1919. Being the world’s largest democracy, it has consistently promoted the principles of social justice, through many proactive initiatives, despite various labour market challenges.

The Covid-19 crisis shocked the global economy and put the world on the brink of a major recession. Countries, companies, organisations and citizens around the world experienced acute unpredictability and instability. Businesses were faced with overwhelming and competing challenges as they navigated the multiple impacts of the pandemic.

Employer and business member organisations in India have been at the forefront of supporting the private sector and addressing the intertwined health, economic and social consequences of the pandemic and helping shape policy choices to provide safe workplaces and business continuity measures.

India played an exemplary role in supporting its citizens and the global community during the crisis with its vaccination drives, vaccine exports and other relief measures, all of which constitute advancing social justice for all.

The 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. Above all, it focuses on strengthening the capacities of the ILO’s constituents and the ecosystem of social dialogue.

India formally took over the G20 presidency on December 1, 2022. Constituted in 1999 in the wake of the 1997 global financial crisis, today, this influential group takes action on issues ranging from financial stability, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and health crises to food security and climate change. As the world's fastest growing major economy, with the intention of being the voice of the Global South, India's G20 presidency presents a significant opportunity for it to focus on global issues, present its development narratives, and contribute to the inclusive "One Earth, One Family, One Future" G20 agenda.

With fears of recession speculated for 2023, the International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook has revised down the expected GDP growth of almost all major countries in 2022 and 2023. Global growth is expected to slow down from 6% in 2021, to just 3.2% in 2022 and 2.7% in 2023. In contrast, India’s Gross Domestic Product forecast by IMF stood at 6.8% in 2022 and 6.1% in 2023, which is the highest among the G 20.

Making use of this position of strength, along with signing the new DWCP, India is poised to usher in a new agenda to promote social justice.

Promoting universal social protection has been identified as a priority in the DWCP. India led the way in South Asia as the government introduced the new Code on Social Security in 2020, which envisages broader coverage of workers, including ‘gig workers’ and ‘platform workers.’ The Code envisages ‘platform work’ as work arrangements outside traditional employment. It acknowledges the need for social security benefits to reach all workers. Extending social protection to these self-employed workers clearly demonstrates how India has expanded some of the components of social justice beyond the traditional employment relationship.

Social dialogue is a means to achieve harmonious industrial relations and achieve the wider objective of socio-economic development. Strengthening social dialogue is a key driver of the new DWCP, as enumerated in its three identified priorities.

Recognising the importance of promoting entrepreneurship based on a culture of innovation is another positive step in the right direction. We are witnessing a tremendous thirst for entrepreneurial skills and a growing interest in self-employment with the rise of the gig economy. The choices millennials and gen Z make, like flexible work contracts or the ability to work with more than one employer, disrupt society and business and make gig and platform work an emerging market. According to NITI Aayog’s Gig Economy Report 2022, the gig workforce is expected to expand to 23.5 million workers by 2029-30. The gig workers are expected to form 6.7% of the non-agricultural workforce or 4.1% of the total livelihood in India by 2029-30.

India is well positioned to unleash a new agenda for social justice through the implementation of the new DWCP in the next five years. The ILO will also be introducing its new Social Justice Programme set out in the vision of the ILO’s director general through the setting up of a Global Social Justice Coalition.

With India taking on the leadership of G20, it is an opportune moment to mobilise all resources in ensuring that social justice is prioritised in national and global policymaking, in development cooperation, and in financial, trade and investment agreements. Whilst we strive towards achieving our goals in India’s DWCP, it is equally important that we do everything possible to eradicate all barriers to create an enabling environment for social justice.

This article has been authored by Ravi Peiris is an attorney-at-law in Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court and currently senior specialist in employers’ activities, ILO DWT for South Asia and country office for India. The views expressed are personal.

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