July 21, 2012

Agewell's Written Statement at 2012 ECOSOC High Level Segment

 2012 ECOSOC High Level Segment on
“Promoting productive capacity, employment and decent work to eradicate poverty in the context of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth at all levels for achieving the MDGs"

The right to work –assuring both income security and dignity – should be available to all who are capable of working. India in 2012 remains dominated by manual labour, with agricultural labour preponderant. This is a low-income occupation, and poverty persists for a majority of the people.

Changes in economic policy and shifts in both public and private sector demands challenge a workforce whose existing skills and capabilities may be losing value. Re-tooling opportunity is not available to everyone; change of work does not guarantee a ‘decent’ work alternative. Many in India have to settle for whatever they can get.

Among those driven to compromise is the older generation of workers. Their foothold in inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth is precarious, with both age and out-paced skills going against them. Where the village shoemaker was valued for locally handmade leather footwear, the plastic or rubber sandal now prevails. What is the re-tooling potential? The issue is not of productive capacities per se, but of their market relevance, even in their home base.

Can mere employment raise productive capacity? India’s flagship employment assurance scheme under the Minimum National Rural Employment Guarantee Act targets the rural workforce, offering 100 days of low-skill employment annually to people in their native location. This leaves 265 days a year income-insecure. It also does little to change or upgrade skills.

Pledged to inclusive social and economic justice for all, India has shifted towards liberalization, and the private sector – industry and commerce – operates in a market it increasingly controls. A large proportion of the people remain poor, with work and income security at a subsistence level. Despite 11 five-year national development plans, extensive unemployment, and ‘under-employment’ persist; the neediest lack the abilities now in demand. A shortage of ‘decent’ work for the most vulnerable is predictable fallout of this situation. India should be encouraged to revisit the aim of equitable job security.

Of millions in India working at demeaning tasks for poor returns, the worst-off, with the least bargaining capacity, are child workers and aging workers. Children -- under-age for employment -- should be safeguarded against labour. The old get classified as over-age while they still have much to offer and contribute. They should be safeguarded against being discarded.

The current age profile of vulnerable workers in India needs investigation. Official estimates put child workers at 11 million; other projections are higher. Children, being 40% of everyone in India, vastly outnumber the old. Of India’s 100 million aged over 60 years, 65% have ‘no source of income.’ Official data puts workers aged above 60 at 28 million. So most of the old are without work, and indigent, even if they are capable of working. They deserve a better deal.

In bypassing the continuing potential of older workers, nations may be losing an available resource. There is need for both realism and creativity in national strategy for productive employment. India and other countries should be encouraged to consult the very generation that is silently witnessing a period it could enrich.