Conference | ‘The ILO @ 100’ at the Indian Society for Labour Economics 61st conference, 2019

Kaveri Haritas at the Indian Society for Labour Economics 61st conference 2019, at the Punjabi University Patiala (ISLE conference).

A paper from the International Development Policy’s 11th special issue ‘The ILO @ 100: Addressing the Past and Future of Work‘ was presented on December 7th, 2019 at the Indian Society for Labour Economics 61st conference 2019, at the Punjabi University Patiala (ISLE conference).

The paper ‘Working Futures: The ILO, Automation and Digital Work in India‘ presented by Prof. Kaveri Haritas, OP Jindal Global University, and alma mater of the Graduate Institute, Geneva, co-written with Prof. Filipe Calvao, Graduate Institute, addresses technology and the future of work in India.

The ISLE conference was organised by the Institute for Human Development, Delhi and the Centre for Development Economics and Innovation Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala. It was attended by leading economists including Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman; members of NITI Aayog, the policy think tank of the Government of India; Abhijit Sen, former member Planning Commission; Jayati Ghosh, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Bina Agarwal, University of Manchester; Uma Rani, Senior Economist, Research Department, ILO;  Nomaan Majid, Senior Employment Specialist, ILO; Dagmar Walter, Director, Decent Work Technical Support Team for South Asia and India Country Office and Dr. Gerry Rodgers, Former Director, International Institute of Labour Studies, Geneva. 

The paper by Calvao and Thara examines the impact of automation and digitally mediated work on jobs in India with the objective of contributing to the development of policies by the ILO. It examines discourses on the changing nature of work, highlighting the increasingly blurry boundaries between formal and informal work, standard and non standard work, examining the potential and limitations of social protection to compensate for loss of employment through policies of redistribution such as Basic Income initiatives and collective ownership of digital work platforms. Kaveri highlighted the impact of automation in the manufacturing sector contributing to job losses as well as reducing new jobs in the context of the current crisis of employment and in manufacturing. She noted the lack of a long term vision on the skills required for future jobs, with the Government’s National Skill Development Corporation still focusing on skill development for manufacturing jobs.

On the changing nature of work, she noted that digitally mediated work, including sharing platforms and online digital labour, are embraced by workers looking for flexibility and freedom from conventional work and dependencies that are often inscribed in relations of caste, religion and gender. Workers who seek such autonomy are not necessarily breaking free from all dependencies, but are seeking new forms of interdependence, that international organisations such as the ILO can respond to by considering the adoption of a digital work convention that responds to these new visions and desires around work. She concluded by suggesting that the ILO play a role in steering policies in developing economies to chart out skill development policies that respond to changes caused by technology.

She noted India’s dependence on digitally mediated work, not only on sharing platforms such as Uber, Ola but also on online labour platforms, with Indians comprising 1/3rd of all online workers (15-45 million). In the context of work platforms that remain largely unregulated, she concluded by suggesting that the ILO should play a role in regulating these spheres of work, examining the possibility of learning from collective ownership and management of such platforms to enable equitable redistribution of profits that are currently owned and controlled by profit making corporations.

The paper was discussed by Uma Rani, Senior Economist, Research Department, ILO and Ajit K. Ghose, Visiting Professor, Institute for Human Development, Delhi.

Professor Ajit K. Ghose commented that the paper does not sufficiently critically examine discourses of automation as resulting in unemployment and suggested that we should consider the fact that there is little evidence to show that jobs would be replaced to the extent that some predict. Uma Rani commented that Basic Income Initiatives are not a solution to the question of jobs, and that the decent work initiative should in the least be implemented. Several other panels also interrogated the issue of technology and work, and it seemed that a good number of economists were sceptical about the predictions of automation replacing human work. Some of this has to do perhaps with the current economic discourses around reducing work opportunities and job losses in India, which are viewed as emerging due to the policies of the current government, specifically on demonetisation which is believed to have contributed primarily to the crisis in the informal sector and the implementation of taxes on goods and services that has an impact on the formal sector. These simultaneous policy challenges seem to have eclipsed propositions of the technological impacts on work. 

Read and cite the article available in #openaccess :

Filipe Calvão and Kaveri Thara, ‘Working Futures: The ILO, Automation and Digital Work in India’, International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement, 11 | 2019, URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/poldev.3097

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