The International Labour Organisation (ILO) released its “World Employment Social Outlook, 2017 Report” in October which disclosed that over 201 million workers worldwide are currently unemployed, showing an increase of 3.4 million over 2016. The global unemployment rate stands at 5.8 per cent, and is not expected to drop any time soon, the report said. In India, job losses and job creation are exercising the minds of independent experts and policy makers, ever since the pace of economic reforms picked up. There are suggestions to improve the data collection mechanism for the employment sector. In an e-mail interview to DEEPAK RAZDAN, Sher Verick, Deputy Director, ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia and Country Office for India, explained ILO’s perspective on the grave issue. Excerpts:

Q: Does the ILO follow up its reports with domestic governments and stakeholders like unions on a possible action?
A: The ILO works on a consistent basis with countries to address key employment challenges; this means working with governments, employer and worker organisations and other stakeholders. The ILO provides support in different areas: policy formulation, research, capacity building and project implementation.
The ILO does engage in regular dialogue with governments, employers and workers in the context of various flagship reports. This is done at a global, regional and country level.

Q: How has creating awareness of the situation helped in the past?
A: Creating awareness is a long-term endeavour. The ILO’s research and flagship reports have played an important role at the global level (e.g. at the G20) and in regional and country-level settings.
Member-States are committed to addressing these employment challenges; the ILO seeks to bring comparative insights on what is happening in other countries and, more importantly, on solutions that will help address them.

Q: The 2017 World Employment Report says decent and productive employment is fundamentally based on firms fostering equity in employment opportunities, and investing in workers. What changes are needed in India?
A: In the Indian context, a number of dimensions remain important, as reflected by ongoing efforts in the country: improving the productivity and competitiveness of SMEs; enhancing skill development and incentivising firms to invest in skills through apprenticeships and other mechanisms; and promoting good labour practices that create a “win-win” for business and workers. A key aspect is promoting opportunities for women ~ efforts are needed to improve the recruitment, retention and promotion of women in business, which will have both important economic and social implications.

Q: ILO says its latest report contributes to the Agenda for Sustainable Development for achieving the goal of “decent work and economic growth”. How is the Agenda goal being translated into reality in India?
A: The Government of India is strongly committed to the 2030 Agenda, including the SDGs, as evidenced by the statements of the Prime Minister and other senior ministers at national and international meetings. India’s national development goals and its “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” or “development with all, and for all,” policy initiatives for inclusive development converge well with the SDGs, and India will play a leading role in determining the success of the SDGs, globally.

NITI Aayog has been entrusted with the task of coordinating the SDGs. NITI Aayog has undertaken a mapping of schemes as they relate to the SDGs and their targets, and has identified lead and supporting ministries for each target. They have adopted a government-wide approach to sustainable development, emphasising the interconnected nature of the SDGs across economic, social and environmental pillars.

In addition, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) has been leading discussions for developing national indicators for the SDGs. State governments are key to India’s progress on the SDG Agenda as they are best placed to ‘put people first’ and to ensuring that ‘no one is left behind’. The ILO, along with the rest of the UN in India, is working to support these efforts.

Q: The Indian government doubts the job data currently available and suggested the inclusion of self-employment opportunities created by new welfare schemes. What is the ILO’s suggestion on the mechanism to keep count of job creation?
A: The ILO works with countries around the world to improve the collection of labour statistics. The best source of labour statistics is calculated using household surveys. The jobs are determined from household members of working age (mostly 15 years and above) who are engaged or not in any activity to produce goods or provide services for pay or profit in the reference period (for instance in last week).

In the process, they are classified as employed, unemployed or outside the labour force.

It is understood that ‘job’ is a set of tasks and duties performed by one person in paid employment jobs or in self-employment jobs. Most household surveys are able to provide the status in employment based on the characteristics of employment relationship (i.e. type of contract of employment) or based on the degree of authority over establishment and other workers (i.e. self-employed).

Estimates of number of jobs from establishment survey are limited in coverage as they may exclude small establishments or businesses. The establishment survey focuses largely on jobs (occupied jobs or vacancies) with exclusion observed in agriculture sector and informalsector.

Therefore, the India Period Labour Force Survey currently in the field by NSSO is expected to be representative of all households across the country. There is no need to use any other external source to supplement the shortfall in number of jobs. In fact, the data from welfare schemes is limited only to those persons registered. The workers involved in informal employment may not be represented in the welfare schemes.

As much as possible, ILO recommends having regular labour force household surveys that allow personal interview with more detailed disaggregation data on all persons including self-employed, informal workers, etc…. Frequent data collection would allow having the stock and flows of estimates based on best practices and accepted labour statistics as per international standards.

Q: ILO research showed last year that after a number of years of improvement, youth unemployment was set to rise in 2016. Has the situation got worse?
A: There is no current evidence to suggest that the situation has got worse though a new Global Employment Trends report on youth is due for release. But youth unemployment is still high and remains a key concern for countries across the world. Efforts are needed by all stakeholders to ensure that young people successfully navigate the transition from school to work.

Q: How do you find the Indian Government’s exercise to compress major labour laws into four Codes? Unions say they were not consulted. NITI Aayog wants the Codes to have reformed labour laws to boost enterprise growth. What is ILO’s assessment?
A: The ILO works with the government, trade unions and employer organisations on all issues pertaining to the labour market, including changes to labour laws. The ILO provides its technical inputs based on international labour standards, economic analysis and insights from other countries with the aim of developing a more innovative regulatory framework, which will protect workers, while recognising the needs of employers. The balance between security and flexibility needs to be found through dialogue.