Conference Themes

The guidelines on the conference themes are suggestive only. The prospective paper writers may contribute on other relevant sub-themes as well. Apart from contributions on India, conceptual papers or those relating to other regions and countries are also welcome.

THEME I: Technology, Globalization and Work

India’s performance in terms of economic growth has been quite impressive since the 1990s. But the same cannot be said about employment, especially if one talks about productive and formal employment. The employment and labour market scene is characterized by the stubborn persistence of informal and low productivity employment, a slow process of structural transformation, high rate of unemployment of the educated, and a mismatch between education and skills required by the labour market and those produced by the country’s education and training system. Meanwhile, new challenges for the future of work are emerging as a result of shift in technology and changes in the Organisation of Production which are developing globally but which are also affecting Indian Labour markets.

It was expected that economic reforms and trade liberalization introduced in India since the early 1990s would lead to a high growth of production and exports of labour-intensive products. However, the country has not seen high rates of labour absorption through export-oriented industrialization of the kind experienced in some countries of East and South-East Asia, e.g., the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, etc. The experience of several other countries including that of South Asia has also not been much different although there are some differences between the countries. In Bangladesh, the ready-made garment industry has attained impressive growth and has played a major role in creating jobs outside agriculture. But the success in export-led industrialization and genuine structural transformation has remained limited. In Pakistan also, trade liberalization has not led to the growth of labour-intensive exports at expected rates. In Nepal, two export-oriented industries, viz., carpet and ready-made garments, showed some initial promise, but their growth could not be sustained. Sri Lanka’s export-led industrialization also did not last long.

Manufacturing has not been the engine of growth in the South Asian countries as has been the case in East and South-east Asia. And that is one of the reasons for slow growth of productive employment in the region. One could, of course, argue that manufacturing does not have to be the driver of growth in all countries, and the service sector could also spearhead structural transformation and productive employment. To what extent that is happening remains a question.

As a result of the low growth of productive employment in manufacturing and low employment intensity of the service sector, the informal economy has been the major vehicle of employment in the economies of several developing countries, particularly South Asia. And the quality of jobs in large segments of that component falls short of the standards of decent work.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 include full and productive employment and decent work as part of one of the goals to be attained by 2030. While the SDGs are supposed to be applicable to countries at all levels of development, it needs to be noted that the notion of full employment as used in developed countries may not be applicable to South Asia and most of the developing countries. The indicators and targets (e.g., share of employment in the informal economy) that are recommended for monitoring performance in this regard also suffer from shortcomings.

While the challenges mentioned above continue to persist, new developments like the emergence of the so-called “gig economy”, and the availability of new technologies, are adding to the earlier challenges. For example, the spread of the gig economy is calling in question the definition of employment, the relationship between employer and employee, and what constitutes decent work in many countries.

The waves of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR) driven by robots, artificial intelligence, nano-technology and bio-technology will reach the shores of South Asia and other developing countries at some point in future. And that is likely to have profound impact on employment and labour markets. It is almost certain that while some jobs will be lost and new jobs will emerge, the nature of education and skills required by the labour market will undergo shifts of a kind that have not been seen before. Unless such changes can be foreseen and examined carefully, measures needed to adjust the education and training system cannot be formulated effectively.

In the above background, the papers on this theme may address the following issues and questions.

THEME II: Labour Organisations and Labour Rights in the Changing World of Work

Inequality is currentlyone of the most widely discussed development problems all over the world. Theories of income distribution have been in the literature of economics from before Adam Smith to the present day. Ricardo characterises income distribution as the principal problem of economics. Several well known philosophers and economists, such as AmartyaSen and John Rawls, have examined the nature of inequality. In recent years, rising income inequality has attracted the attention of IMF, World Bank, OECD and Davos meetings. The number of billionaires is increasing throughout the world with a larger share in income and wealth. With the release of the book by Thomas Piketty (2014), ‘Capital in the Twenty-first Century’ there has been increasingly more debate on inequality in several parts of the world. Historically, more attention has been paid to poverty in India than to inequality, but with rising inequality in recent years this is now changing.

There are two main arguments for reduction in inequality. One is an ethical or philosophical argument that equality is important for its own sake (intrinsic value). The second one is that reduction in inequality is required for sustainability of economic growth and well-being (instrumental value). Thus, rising inequality can lead to reduction in economic growth apart from the normative dimension to equality. It is also useful to distinguish between inequality of outcome and inequality of opportunity. Economists usually measure inequality in terms of assets, income or expenditure.. Inequality of opportunity is often measured by studying non-income dimensions such as health, education, access to basic services and human development.

Labour market inequalities are high all over the world. In fact, most economic and social inequalities will have a labour market dimension. Therefore, employment and wages should be an important focus in addressing inequalities. Like many other developing countries, the Indian labour market has the characteristics of high dependence on agriculture, domination of informal sector, virtual absence of unemployment insurance or social wage, the problem of ‘working poor’, a large share of self employment, gender bias and seasonal migration. Another peculiar characteristic is that caste, tribe, community, kinship etc. remain important determinants of access to quality employment. Labour market segmentation is another important aspect of inequality. Wage differentials cannot be explained by economic factors alone in spite of increasing occupational and geographical mobility.

Well-being has both income and non-income dimensions. Inequalities in income, assets and consumption are part of the income dimension while health, education, sustainability of natural resources etc. refer to the non-income dimension. Inequalities have a significant relationship with the well-being of different sections of the population.

What are the policies needed to reduce inequality and raise productive employment and well-being? These policies include redistribution measures, macro policies like fiscal, monetary and trade, sectoral policies on agriculture, industry and services, skill development, policies on informal sector, labour institutions, technology, social policies on education and health, social protection policies and gender related policies. However, there is no-one size fits all policies for tackling inequality. In developed countries, more reliance on wealth and property taxes, progressive income taxation, better targeting of social benefits are needed. In emerging market countries, better access to education and health services, and well targeted conditional transfers can reduce inequality (Bastagli et al, 2012). World Bank (2016) provides some lessons from the experiences of countries such as Brazil, Cambodia, Peru and Tanzania which are among the best performers in reducing inequalities during 2004-14. Some of the lessons for the success of these countries are prudent macroeconomic policies, strong growth, better functioning labour markets and coherent domestic policies focusing on safety nets, human capital, and infrastructure. It is also cautioned that universal prescriptions are useful but we need country specific solutions. Barbosa et al (2017) compare the experience of Brazil and India in growth and inequality, and argue that a wide-ranging package of complementary policies is necessary.

Against this background, papers containing empirical analysis at macro or micro level on the following sub-themes are invited:

THEME III: : Changing Pattern of Rural Labour Markets

The inclusion of women into the contemporary global workforce has been a process that is fraught with contests, conflicts and compromises. The transition from agrarian and artisanal economies to industrial and factory work in many countries involved a reconfiguration of gender ideologies. The narrative that accompanied this transition was that women could free themselves from local/rural patriarchal oppression and become part of modern work places. Yet, a closer look at the work force in many developed, developing and emerging countries reveal occupational segregation and over representation of women in low paid jobs. In the Indian context, we can trace two movements: a) the incorporation of women into a globalised workforce who are increasingly visible in cities and towns and b) a decline in the labour force participation rates of women. Both these simultaneous, yet contradictory processes call for in-depth empirical study and conceptual rework.

Despite a high growth rate, the Indian economy has not been able to generate enough jobs to absorb the increasing working age population. Women have been particularly affected as gender remains an important axis of marginalisation and segmentation in employment. Change in employment has been much slower and more limited among women workers than among men workers. A closer examination of labour force participation rates reveal that women from marginalised communities are affected by fluctuations in employment more than others from privileged backgrounds.

A large proportion of women are self-employed in non-agricultural activities. Are these women entrepreneurs? Recent literature has suggested that all entrepreneurs are not opportunity seeking. A large proportion in developing countries, particularly women, are there by sheer force of necessity. The State policies including in India are encouraging start-ups and innovative entrepreneurship. Do educational institutions work to motivate and create a spirit of entrepreneurship? These issues demand both conceptual and empirical exploration.

The papers may explore any of the themes and questions delineated below, which are only indicative:

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