India's Leadership in the International Labour Organization: Consequences and Implications

Updated: May 26

Avishikta Chattopadhyay,

Research Member,

Internationalism Research.

Vijaylakshmi Raju,

News Editor,


India represented by Mr Heeralal Samariya, Secretary to the Labour Ministry was elected as the chair of the Governing Body of International Labour Organisation (ILO) by consensus for the term 2020–21 on the 4th of August, 2020. Thus, making him the fifth person from India to be elected as the chair of the Governing Body of the ILO. Shri B.G. Deshmukh, Secretary, Ministry of Labour (1984-85) was the last person from India to hold the chair. Mr Samariya will be succeeding H.E. Mr Refiloe Litjobo from Lesotho, South America. This major event comes at a very opportune phase because of the changing dynamics of the Indian presence in global multilateralism as well as the arduous shift in labour conditions in countries of the global south. The article analysis the importance of Indian leadership in ILO and enlists the rationale behind the choice of leadership for the present time.

This stance comes at a time when the world is rigged with a crisis in the labour sector. The labour sector has been deeply trenched by the collapse of the world economy owing to the COVID-19 Pandemic. In addition to that, there must have emerged several human rights predicaments in the labour sector. ILO predicts 1.6 billion informal economy workers could suffer “massive damage” to their livelihoods[1] as a result of the pandemic. In the second quarter of 2020, COVID-19 may cost the equivalent of 305 million full-time jobs thus affecting nearly half the million population in the world.[2] The COVID-19 situation is supposed to impact the lower-middle-income group to the tune of 82 per cent[3] and majorly affect the informal sector. At this juncture, the selection of India as a chair would provide for the right mindset and proper direction to the objectives of the ILO in streamlining the requirements of the developing and the lower-income group nations.

One of the major reasons for the choice of the Indian leadership in ILO for the particular tenure 2020-2021 is the increasing focus given to Decent Work. Since its inception ILO sets the international labour standards, promoting rights at work and also encourages employment opportunities which enhances the social protection and strengthens dialogue on work-related issues. It has its unique tripartite structure which brings the government together, employers and workers representatives. It develops the mandate of social justice as the basis for agenda expressed in terms of 'Decent Work for All'. 'Decent Work' which stems from the Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCPs) represents a global goal, promoting the means of striving for economic growth with equity, a logical blend of social and economic goals, contributing to opportunities for all women and men to obtain decent and productive work in the relevance of freedom, equity, security and dignity. The 11th Plan of India was in consonance with the Decent Work objectives of ILO focusing on three main components of enhancing opportunity for skill development, social protection of the informal sector and elimination of unacceptable forms of works. Furthermore, The Decent Work Technical Support Team (DWT) for South Asia is stationed in New Delhi which provides technical support at policy and operational levels to member States in the sub-region which provides the required bedrock and information for furthering its objectives.

India in itself has been deeply struck by the crisis. The mass exodus of migrant labourers in India has been considered to be the greatest exodus since partition.[4] The inability to receive minimum wages and the worsening conditions of Life add on to the already weak and unstable working conditions and basic needs that are necessary for the proper functioning of the labour industry. However, India has always been an active participant in the issue of establishing labour rights since ancient times. Owing to the significant role communism played in India, it has always been drenched with the ideas of revolution, emancipation and upliftment of the labour class. Labour Unions and Labour organisations play a dominant role in deciding the policies of Industries in India even in the present time. India has long-standing relations with the ILO and is significantly one of the founding members of the organisation in the year 1919. It was inducted as a permanent member of the ILO Governing body since 1922. Subsequently, India has been helping the growth of ILO after independence as well.[5] Out of 47 Conventions and 1 Protocol ratified by India, 39 are in force, 5 Conventions and no Protocol has been denounced only 4 Instruments have been abrogated. All these factors increase India’s goodwill in the global labour sector and make it a worthy candidate for being granted leadership in the time of crisis.

In the new decade of distress, India had had a shining geo-political career so far, with its presence being felt at all quarters of the global internationalism. One of the major changes that we can expect in the labour sector with Indian leadership is drawing up of clear guidelines of labour in the unorganised sector, their proper redressal mechanisms and their security standards. In 1985 during the term of B.G. Deshmukh, Rajiv Gandhi in one of his addresses in the ILO had mentioned the utter need to work on the increasing inclusivity of destitute and the unorganised within the ambit of the functioning of ILO.[6] With the Indian chair coming back after 35 years, the world can expect the implementation of the strategies directed by its forefathers.

Mr H. Samariya has been associated with multi-ferrous labour initiatives of dynamic nature. However, he has been actively pursuing the agenda of proper regulation of Child Labour. In 2019, a multipronged strategy was adopted by the government which was presented by H. Samariya to combat child labour with the aim towards technical Consultation on Evolving Strategies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal and Elimination of Child Labour in India’.[7] One of the major fears of the Post COVID-19 situation is the predictable increase in cases of child labour owing to the decrease in household income resulting from unemployment. With the increase in child labour, a predictable outcome is a decrease in proper education and training of the youth. While discussing of the susceptibility of increase in Child Labour post-COVID-19 Mr Samariya assured that India has ratified ILO conventions 138 & 182 following which India’s existing laws ensure that no child below 14 years of age is involved in any form of child labour[8] The educational reforms in India through the National Educational Policy, 2020 and the increasing focus of vocational training also qualifies as a factor leading to the Indian leadership in the ILO. It is quite possible that the ILO is expecting to achieve substantial development in child labour regulations and setting up of guidelines for the proper creation and maintenance of human capital and preservation of human values and ensure fulfilment of basic requirements.

Although, the dynamic nature of the labour sector makes it difficult to determine the proper nature of results expected from a leadership. However, with the Indian success stories of leadership in all quarters, one can definitely expect to witness massive changes in the implementation and creation of guidelines to augment development and reduce conflicts.


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] RODGERS, GERRY. “India, the ILO and the Quest for Social Justice since 1919.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 10, 2011, pp. 45–52. JSTOR, Accessed 8 Aug. 2020. [7] [8] © AbhiGlobal Legal Research & Media LLP

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