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For a world of freer labour flows 

Business Line , Apr 06, 2015

The globalisation discourse celebrates the gains of free trade and investment flows, but what about people?

We live in an increasingly globalised world, characterised by the transnational movement of goods, services, people and ideas. Yet, the merits of international migration of people have not been recognised in substantial measure.

Migration has received attention, albeit of the wrong kind.

The discourse the world over continues to be driven by political rhetoric, centred around populism, xenophobia, security and nationalism.

As a result, the economics of migration has been overlooked. In international migration in particular, good economics does not necessarily mean good politics.

The only easy battles in migration are garnering support for mobility of high skilled workers, or those who come and go with a ‘temporary’ tag.

Freer economic migration is good for business, catalysing innovation, investment and entrepreneurship — the building blocks of sustainable development.

International migration also spurs the investment rate, saving rate and the consumption rate, which further serves to expand business and trade.

Despite these obvious gains, an irony peculiar to our globalising world is the noticeable absence of industry as a catalyst for global migration. The Indian Diaspora is the most successful in the world. Indian industry must find modes of engagement with the Diaspora to derive advantage from the success they have achieved.

Brain circulation

We are moving away from ‘brain drain’, towards a more positive notion of ‘brain circulation’. Industry must play a bigger role in skills development of the workforce, keeping in mind the paradigm of ‘brain circulation’.

India has to earnestly work towards building an image of a welcoming country; providing equal opportunities, irrespective of race, gender, nationality, and so on. Along with this, India’s ranking in 2014 is 134 among 189 world economies, according to the World Bank’s Ease of doing business survey. Overcoming these issues will necessitate the involvement of Indian industry.

One of Indian industry’s most important contributions can be through skill development of our youth with a gender focus. India is at that unique threshold where its demographic and economic transitions generate a surplus of workers in the economy.

Also, women are no longer migrating as dependents; they are increasingly migrating as workers, independent professionals and service providers.

However, most emigration from India is still in the low-skilled category, 90 per cent of which is to the Gulf countries. A skilled workforce is necessary for industry upgradation; it stimulates innovation and helps countries move up the global value chain.

Promise of Bali

Co-ordination between the main stakeholders in the skills market helps achieve the targets of industrial policy.

There are glaring labour shortages and skill gaps the world over. Industry can play a role in matching available skills with the demand for them and in facilitating bilateral coordination for social security arrangements.

The transnational movement of people should necessarily be looked at as a natural corollary to the movement of goods and capital. Bali 2013 brought with it hope of boosting global trade worth $1 trillion. It has been celebrated as a victory of ‘multilateralism’; as a triumph of globalisation; of various interests coming together.

However, the real victory will come when we reach a consensus on the fact that the mobility of people is good and even necessary to maintain global economic growth rates. The globalisation of everything but labour will not work for too long. Finally, whether or not Indian industry partakes in the facilitation and advocacy of freer migration, it will continue to take place.

Changing the perceptions about migration, not overstating its negatives and understating its positives, will be a good place to start.

The writer is Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry