India asks BRICS to work together for sustainable solutions in the digital economy

Oct 11: Shri Santosh Gangwar, Minister of State (I/C) for Labour & Employment has called for suitable global action especially by BRICs towards effecting a balance between labor and employer which will generate growth and create more jobs & greater labor welfare.

Speaking at a BRICS Ministerial on Friday, 10th October 2020 at the virtual meet, Shri Gangwar said safety, health, welfare and improved working conditions are essential for wellbeing of the workers. A healthy workforce, he said, in the country would be more productive and contribute to economic growth.

BRICS Labour & Employment Ministers’ Virtual Meeting was held under Russian Presidency

to discuss various issues including approaches to creating a safe work culture in BRICS countries. Director General ILO, Mr Guy Ryder, Representatives from Workers and Employers Organisations also attended.

Minister underlined that the aspects of occupational safety and health measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 have also acquired significance.

To provide a dynamic and effective framework of occupational safety and health at workplace, Shri Gangwar informed the meet that the Parliament of India recently passed the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions, 2020.  This, Minister said, has expanded coverage of legal provisions to all sectors. “The important initiatives include, mandatory annual health check-up for employees; framing of dynamic health standards aligned with the changing technology by a tripartite Board; permitting women to work in all establishments even at night with her consent and with stringent safety measures;  providing for payment of minimum 50 percent of the penalty imposed on the employer to the victim besides compensation admissible under law and providing for third party audit to monitor implementation of safety provisions,” he added. Creation of a centralized data base of establishments, workplace risks, and occupational diseases has been provided in the legislation.

Elaborating provisions for safety in new India Legislations including Safety Committees of workers & employers, Shri Gangwar called upon BRICS in framing these mechanisms at various multilateral fora.

It is to be emphasised that an important component of safe work environment and healthy workforce is the availability of universal social security coverage to provide financial support in the times of contingencies . In this regard, our recently enacted labour legislation on social security has provided a framework for universal social protection to the entire 500 million workforce of the country. Special initiatives have been taken to frame schemes for providing social security coverage to the unorganised workers, migrant workers, self-employed and to those associated with new forms of employment such as gig and platform workers.

Speaking during another Session on Reducing poverty through social and economic transformation, Shri Gangwar the Government of India, under the leadership of  Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, is committed to eradicate poverty and promote prosperity in a changing world.

He cited adoption of a multi-dimensional strategy to eliminate poverty by covering most of the basic services, such as financial inclusion, access to quality health care to the most vulnerable citizens by providing free health insurance to them, providing subsidised clean cooking fuel to 80 million economically weaker households, universal access to safe and secure housing for all, free electricity to around 26 million un-electrified households, access to potable water supply to 5.5 million households and ensuring basic sanitation  through construction of over 106 million household toilets. Besides these measures, Shri Gangwar said, a scheme for direct income support to farmers has also been implemented, which has already benefitted nearly 111.7 million farmers.

He also referred to various schemes for securing employment and social protection to the people  in need. These include the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme,  National Livelihood Mission launched with the aim of improving employment opportunities through skill training. “Self-employment has been facilitated through extension of collateral free loans to small and micro business enterprises and individuals,” the Minister added.

Shri Gangwar also said that COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for the world at large and stated that our efforts towards combating poverty need to be re-oriented. India, he informed, taken up a number of relief measures under the “Self Reliant India Campaign ” to protect the economy  from the adverse impact of the Covid-19 crisis. These measures include opening a credit line for micro, small and medium enterprises to    meet their operational expenses, subsidising the social security contributions of workers, extending unemployment benefit to workers, financial assistance to construction workers, collateral free working capital loan to approximately 5 million street vendors, launching of a massive employment -cum- rural public works Campaign to provide employment in a mission mode campaign.

He further said that India is an early achiever in attaining the MDG target for reducing poverty head count ratio and has been sustaining the declining trend as we move towards achieving SDG Goal One to eradicate poverty. “Poverty eradication is at the  forefront of the national development agenda both to accelerate inclusive economic growth as well as in attainment of Sustainable Development Goals,” Shri Gangwar emphasised.

Stating that Poverty is a complex problem with origins in both the national and international domains, he expressed happiness that this agenda has been integrated into the Ministers’ declaration as it is particularly timely and relevant, “in the present global context. It is important that the BRICS countries work together to reach concrete policy actions in combating poverty,” the Minister said.

Intervening during the Session on ‘The future of labour in a digital economy’, Shri Gangwar said that Digitization and technological advancements like artificial intelligence and robotics are rapidly reshaping our life and work. All these changes have a direct effect on the labour market. Under COVID-19, he said, the world has gone into isolation. In this situation, the Minister stressed, digitization offers the opportunity for governments, individuals and businesses to cope with the changing scenario.

He pointed out that paradigm shift towards digitization of the economy which had already begun, the current events have only accelerated the paradigm. Now Digital economy is an integral part of the new normal. Technology innovations like telework telemedicine, food delivery and logistics, online and contactless payments, remote learning and entertainment. “With a strong and reliable digital infrastructure      and access, India presents an attractive opportunity for global and local businesses and also creates new employment opportunities,” Shri Gangwar added.

Referring to Digital economy creating new forms of work such as gig work and platform work, he said this has also  resulted in new kinds of employment relationships where one worker is engaged with multiple employers thereby bringing complexity in the provision of social protection and other welfare benefits.

He informed that the new Indian legislation on Social Security recognizes these emerging  forms of work by defining terms like aggregator, gig worker and platform worker, and extend social protection to such workers through a separate Social Security Fund wherein the contribution from aggregators would be deposited.

He also said that technological advancement and digitization also helps  in simplifying compliance mechanism and implementation of labour laws. To ensure transparency and accountability in the labour market system, we have introduced an online inspection system and settlement of industrial disputes. “These illustrations indicate successful use of technology for protecting the rights of the workers,” Shri Gangwar said.

While preparing our workforce for the digital economy, he said, we should not lose sight of  the Sustainable Development Goal 8 which promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Our approach to an inclusive future of work needs to include equal access to labour market, equal pay for equal work, equal participation by all the sections of the society and social protection for all the workers.

The Minister underscored that Digital economy is changing the world of work, hence regular studies by the BRICS Network Research Institutes will facilitate better understanding of the aspects of future of work and supplement policy making. “We all need to work together in finding feasible and sustainable solutions to the issues and challenges facing the future of the labour force in the digital economy so that we can get the flexible employment opportunities for our workforce without compromising their fundamental rights,” he concluded.