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New law needed to help gig, platform workers: ILO DG

Director-General of the International Labour Organisation Gilbert F. Houngbo said that a new law is needed to help gig, platform workers. | Representative image |
| Photo Credit: K. Bhagya Prakash

56% of the population in the Asia Pacific and 60% in the Arab States have no access to any social protection benefits, said Gilbert F. Houngbo, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) here on Tuesday. Addressing reporters at the sidelines of the 17th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting, Mr. Houngbo said labour productivity has stagnated in the two regions after the pandemic.

“Youth unemployment remains a huge challenge. 15.5% of young people are unemployed in the Asia-Pacific region, but the number rises to almost 26% in the Arab states,” Mr. Houngbo said.

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On his recent warning that there could be a social unrest if the trend of decreasing the wages is not arrested, Mr. Houngbo said the APRM will discuss the crises in employment and come up with suggestions.

“I hope there’s no social unrest. Nobody wants to see a social unrest. I am looking forward what views and recommendations come out of this meeting to meet the current challenges as the workers’ purchasing capacity is going down. There is a need for better social protection for all classes,” Mr. Houngbo said.

On the gig and platform workers and gig and platform economy, Mr. Houngbo said it is important to have a law or a convention at the international level through ILO which every can abide. “Otherwise it will affect the effectiveness of platform economy. The road is bumpy. But I think we will get there,” he added.

On the complaint by about ten Central Trade Unions from India that the Indian government disallowed them from participating in the APRM, Mr. Houngbo said he has asked his colleagues to check on this. “Unfortunately, every time we have a conference we face such challenges. We have a committee that looks into such complaints,” he said.

About the reports of deaths of hundreds of migrant workers in Qatar, during the preparatory construction activities for the ongoing World Cup Football tournament, Mr. Houngbo said things have improved since ILO’s intervention.

“One death is too much. This is one reason why ILO gives importance to safety at work. ILO has been in discussions with Qatar since 2014. Those positive discussions led to opening a project office in Doha in 2017. There have been a lot of positive works in the last five years. The kafala system has been abolished. There was no freedom of association. But now many companies set up committees where workers are represented. There is a minimum salary that has bee established. Heat stress was another challenge. The law has been modified to increase the time where one shouldn’t work. More than 300 companies were shut down because they did not follow the new laws. But it doesn’t mean that everything is rosy. Qatar saw many reforms in a short time,” Mr Houngbo added.

The ILO Director General said COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical crises and conflicts, weak global economic conditions, and a growing numbers of natural disasters as a direct result of climate change, have all pushed social progress backwards. “Millions of workers lost their jobs and livelihoods while some businesses closed their doors. The multiple global crises we are facing have also led to a decline in real wages,” Mr. Houngbo said.

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Later, addressing the APRM, Mr. Houngbo said there’s a need to improve the region’s record on ratification and implementation of international labour standards. “Today, labour standards, employment policies and social protection matter more than ever. During booming economic times, it is easy to forget that certain groups are left behind. Such as casual workers or micro-entrepreneurs scraping a living outside the umbrella of formal institutions and protections. They are surviving. But they are certainly not thriving. Such disadvantaged groups tend not to ask for assistance. This is why – in the name of social justice – we must be their voice and step up on their behalf,” Mr. Houngbo said.

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Mr. Houngbo said the impact of COVID-19, combined with geopolitical turmoil, economic crisis and natural disasters, have pushed social progress in the region backwards.

“Millions who had escaped working poverty to join the middle class are now back below the poverty line. Or perched just above it. Many poor households are taking on more and more debt as inflation drives food and energy prices higher and higher. The pandemic disrupted education for millions of school-age children. And we are now seeing a sharp increase in the number of young people who are not in employment, education or training,” Mr. Houngbo said.

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