New technologies are bringing about fundamental changes in every sphere of life and profoundly reshaping the world of work. Innovations in digital technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotics, digital platforms and cloud infrastructure have led to new ways of organizing work processes. Governments in developing countries have embraced digital technologies as a strategy to leapfrog to more technologically advanced levels of development, improve productivity and global competitiveness, and generate jobs. However, there are also fears about the possibility of massive job losses, growing labour insecurity and rising inequality, in the wake of automation and other technological processes. The empirical evidence is both limited and inconclusive, as the potential impacts of new technologies on jobs depends on the organisation of work and production by sector and country, the nature of contentious politics and worker power, and public policies.
Innovations in digital technologies have led to an expansion of digital labour platforms, including in developing countries. Platforms promise to provide flexibility and autonomy, which is particularly for women who must balance the double burden of paid and unpaid work. However, a growing body of evidence shows that digital labour platforms are leading to the proliferation of precarious and informal employment, due to the misclassification of platform workers as “self-employed” and deepening algorithmic control over the labour process. Issues which have attracted significant interest among scholars include changing work practices with algorithmic management, work intensification and income, occupational health and safety, social protection, data ownership, workers’ rights and emerging forms of worker struggle, and the role of the state. While there is now a growing literature on the impacts of digital labour platforms in developed countries, the evidence on developing countries, which face significant levels of unemployment and informality, is still limited.
It was in this context that the two-and-a-half-day international conference was organized in New Delhi. The conference brought together 250 researchers and experts including 30 from outside India to systematically deliberate on various issues related to the challenges and opportunities posed by new technologies in the world of work. The varied experiences of the adoption and diffusion of new technologies contributed towards a policy paradigm for a better future of work with decent work for all.
Scope and Issues
The conference addressed some important issues and concerns in the wake of technological change and emerging forms of work which have important implications for the future of work and workers. Some of the issues addressed in the conference, include:
- What is the extent of and motivation for the adoption of robots, digital tools and technologies across firms in different sectors in developing countries?
- What are the implications of new technologies for occupational profiles, tasks and skills? How do they impact the organisation of work and job polarisation?
- What are the gendered impacts of new technologies on labour productivity, wage dispersion and working conditions? Do they further reinforce gender roles as women work from home?
- What are the implications of algorithmic management technologies on job quality, including working conditions such as pay, autonomy, and job security?
- What is the extent of penetration of digital platforms, including labour platforms in different sectors of the economy, especially in developing countries? What is extent of participation on these platforms by gender?
- What are the opportunities and risks for workers engaged in digital platforms?
- How do digital labour platforms challenge or reproduce inequities and discrimination along the lines of gender, race, citizenship, age?
- Is there an increase in precarity and informality with the rise in digital labour platforms?
- What are some of the regulatory initiatives to address some of the challenges such as the employment relationship, social protection, etc. on digital labour platforms? What are the impacts of these regulatory initiatives on workers and the platform business model? What broader lessons can be learned from legal reforms based on judicial decisions?
- How have unions engaged with civil society organisations and informal associations in enhancing protection for workers on digital labour platforms? What initiatives or strategies of collective organisations have been most promising with a view to strengthening and extending labour and social security rights and standards?
Organisation, Structure and Participants
The conference was organized during 17-19 July 2023 at India International Centre, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi. It was organized by the Institute for Human Development (IHD), New Delhi; International Labour Organization, and Southern Centre for Inequality Studies (SCIS), WITS University, Johannesburg in collaboration with NITI Aayog, Government of India. Professor Ravi Srivastava, Professor and Director, Centre for Employment Studies, IHD; Professor Imraan Valodia, Director, Southern Centre for Inequality Studies (SCIS) and Pro Vice-Chancellor, Climate, Sustainability and Inequality, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, and Dr. Uma Rani, Senior Economist, Research Department, International Labour Organisation, Geneva, were the Conference Coordinators.
Well-known scholars working in this area presented their papers. Around 60 papers were selected through a process of competitive call for papers. Apart from paper presentations, three plenary panels including a round table conference was organised on ‘Managing Future of Work for Inclusive Development’. A special lecture on ‘Can We Redirect Technological Change? When, How, and to Achieve What Exactly?’ was also organised in hybrid mode. Experts from various fields -policymaking, industry, technology companies, workers’ organisations and academics – were invited to contribute in these Panels.
Altogether around 250 scholars participated in the conference from diverse fields ranging from policymaking, civil society, industry, worker’s organisations and international organisations as well as academics.
Output of the Conference
The select and revised papers presented in the conference will be brought out as one or two special issues of the Indian Journal of Labour Economics (a quarterly journal of Indian Society of Labour Economics published by Springer). We hope that these outputs will make a good contribution to the theme of technology and future of work.
A proceeding report of the conference deliberations will be brought out shortly.