Labour-20 Engagement GroupL20 in G20 India: Working for the working class

Hiranmay Pandya
The COVID-19 pandemic alerted us to the challenges and gaps in the state of global public health. The shock induced by the pandemic was greatly felt in national and international markets alike. We have, since then, recovered to a great extent, owing to the tireless and cooperative efforts of the scientific community, health workers, policymakers, and conscious citizenry. However, the recovery has been hindered by certain developments around the world, such as the high rate of inflation and the Russia-Ukraine conflict. There has also been an increase in labour market inequalities due to the disproportionate impact on certain groups of workers and firms, contributing to a growing divergence between developed and developing economies.At the same time, the coordinated efforts by governments and civil society have acted as a bridge for equitable distribution of resources. For instance, a targeted focus on social protection, especially during the lockdown period, helped people persevere through this trying time. This was also true for workers who either lost their jobs or suffered pay-cuts. It was this very harmony between government and civil society that was helpful not only in mitigation in times of crisis, but also engineered policy actions that were successful in providing long-term relief.
However, there is still a lot more we can do. India’s G20 Presidency presents an opportunity to take stock of the situation, assess the intensity of these challenges, and renew our commitments at both the national and international level.As per the latest figures, in spite of a robust recovery, the number of hours worked, globally, continues to be 1.5 per cent below pre-covid levels. This is equivalent to a deficit of almost 40 million full-time jobs. Additionally, there are growing divergences within the international labour market as well. For instance, “High Skilled, High Paying” occupations have experienced a stronger recovery in comparison to the “Low and Medium Skilled” jobs like service providers and sales workers. These developments directly contribute to the growing disparity between groups, with poor and disadvantaged sections getting poorer and further marginalized. The pandemic also weighed heavily on the care (work) economy, the burden of which falls disproportionately on women. Identifying these issues is a critical step, and will allow us to strategically deliberate over structural and systemic solutions that act as catalysts for an accelerated and inclusive recovery. In this context, the need of the hour lies in coming up with action-oriented goals– an opportunity that G20 provides to all stakeholders.
G20 is meeting at a highly opportune time to create consensus and work in concert on issues that are not only intrinsic to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, but also for building resilience across sectors. This is particularly important for the global labour market where shifting dynamics and economic volatility triggers vulnerability among the working class. Looking at these objectives, Labour-20 (L-20) will become a forum for all trade unions to deliberate on international labour issues and social labour movements,and subsequently come up with solutions that can be placed and acted upon in national contexts.
Another significant area of focus for L-20 will remain increasing the coverage of social security and social protection for workers worldwide. Social security is a dynamic concept whose form and definition have changed with time. Rapid technological changes have made it necessary to explore new dimensions of social security and protection. With the rise of ‘gig and platform work,’ the life of the firms is being shortened and leading to a new kind of employer-employee relationship, the understanding of which is still in its nascent stage. It is likely that the rules of employment-linked social security that emerged in the aftermath of the First Industrial Revolution and matured during the Second Industrial Revolution require a rewriting in the era of Industry 4.0.
The various working and engagement groups of the G20 have discussed the issues mentioned here. They find their mentions in the G20 Leaders’ Declaration, including the most recent in Bali, Indonesia, as well as in other documents. Policy statements and frameworks are developed under the G20 to further these pressing concerns and underscore actionable targets. The delegates of the L-20 will meet with the objective of conceptualising overall strategies to boost recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers also need to be protected in the face of social, economic and political disruptions. In this context, the task ahead is to examine the achievements made so far and identify the issues where more efforts need to be made. There are huge differences among the countries in terms of per capita GDP, education and skill level, female labour force participation, social protection coverage, demographic phase and so on. Nevertheless, this is our strength as we come with different experiences. We all have something to add on the issues of Global Skill Gaps, new forms of employment, the rise of the gig and platform economy, the extension of effective social protection, sustainable financing of social security, and International Labour Mobility.
In the midst of these issues, the unifying factor between the G20 processes and involvement of engagement groups like L-20 remains the refuelling of commitment towards the progress of labour welfare, guided by the principles of equality and social justice as embedded in the vision of ‘One Earth.One Family. One Future.’
The writer is president, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)