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Bharti Birla

February 3, 2022

Andrea Chau

We sat down with Bharti Birla, a Current Student Ambassador (CSA) within the Labour Relations and Employment Law program, to learn more about her, her experience in the LLM, and how she’s applying what she’s being taught. Read on to learn more.

Tell us a bit about you and what you do.

I am the Chief Technical Advisor and project lead for two ILO projects in South Asia. The first program is on enabling sustainable global supply chains in South Asia, with focus on enabling decent work for invisible and hidden workers in the supply chains and the second project focuses enabling fundamental principles and rights at work with focus on occupational health and safety for workers in tea, coconut, rubber and cardamom plantations in South Asia. Apart from large estates in plantation sector, it looks at how we can promote health and safety in the workplace for informal workers in the supply chains. Both projects are concerned with working conditions and how we can better them. I am working for the International Labour Organization (ILO), which is the specialized agency of the United Nations for the last 12 years and have managed different projects with focused on fundamental principles and rights at work – forced labour, child labour, migration, gender, skills and informality. 

Can you tell us a little bit more about your research and discernment process for the LLM? Why this degree, specifically?

I had been looking for an LLM program in Labour and Employment Law. There are many available worldwide and I was considering several across several countries. What I liked about Osgoode were the live seminars and interactions with the practitioners themselves – jurors, lawyers, judges, professors who are practitioners themselves. That was a fascinating opportunity that I did not find in other programs. Yes, they offered part-time LLM programs online, but they weren’t live. I’m sitting in India right now and I’m joining in at Osgoode! Most of the participants in the LLM program are quite experienced themselves in their areas of work. So, the level of discussion between the professors and the participants is very stimulating and interesting. The conversations are exciting. People come from different backgrounds and different countries as well, and there’s a lot to learn from them.

What kind of expectations and concerns did you have? What did you discover upon actually beginning the degree?

I was clear  that I wanted an in-depth experience. I’m a law graduate from India. The point of the LLM degree was to deepen my knowledge and strengthen my expertise. I wanted to substantiate my experience with an academic program, deepening my knowledge and building a network. This seemed to fit very well. Many professors/speakers who teach at Osgoode, also participate at the discussions at the ILO representing constituents at the International Labour Conference, or as experts on different thematic areas and are quite well known. So, it was an opportunity to connect with them and hear them firsthand, as you wouldn’t get that opportunity otherwise. So, I feel like I’d done enough research to select Osgoode.  

How has it been for you to tune into classes from afar, and from such a different time zone?

I am based on India, So I have attended classes at 2:00am or stayed up from 11:00am to the early morning, so it has been challenging. But, it has been also a blessing in disguise. I’m in the opposite time zone and work full time, so it has actually been very useful for me. I attend sessions after office hours, when I am more relaxed, it’s great. The weeknights are difficult, but weekends are fine and I can manage. This was the only way I could do an LLM.

What were you hoping to learn and how do you expect to apply it in your career?

I’m more of a practitioner. I manage large sub-regional and multi-stakeholder projects. As part of the work, I represent the ILO and provide technical support to the national governments, trade unions and employers organizations and stakeholders on laws and policies related to different labour laws and their implementation or strengthening them. It is good to have a formal qualification, as it increases acceptance within the system and organization. So, an LLM degree is useful. I also wanted to know what is happening in countries like Canada and the US in the context of labour and employment laws, what are the current debates and topics of interest, and how the laws are being formed and interpreted. Professors, speakers, participants all come from diverse backgrounds, and when we’re discussing international law, we discuss different countries, economies, challenges – these are important for me to understand and I feel like it can help me in my work.  

Tell us more about your student life and the connections you have made.

It has been a very interesting journey! In the field of labour law, there are three main constituents:  the government, the employers, and the workers’ organizations/unions. Of course, academia, media and civil society also play a critical role. In our class, and with the speakers/professors who come and interact, we have representation from all. I myself come from an ILO, which is the international standard setting organization on labour law. We have very interesting conversations. They’re not just academic, they’re practical, real life situations and challenges. Most of us are moving in a cohort, so we’re quite comfortable with each other. We’ve been in 4-5 modules together and we know each other well and support each other. 

Do you have a favourite class?

I enjoy the whole thing! It is a wonderful experience.

Is there anything more you would add?

I think this program is very good if you want to deepen your understanding and develop perspectives on different facets related to labour and employment law. In a bachelor’s program in law, we do learn the law but we don’t go very deep into how and why a particular law was developed and what changes it has undergone, what international standard forms the basis of the law, and comparative analysis of how law operates in different countries etc.

In India, we never wrote many research and analytical papers in our bachelor’s program. This degree gave me the opportunity to do that, which for me, has been very useful. I’ve been able to go deep into a particular area of work. I do a lot of practical work with regard to labour laws as part of my work in the ILO, their application and implementation etc. but I have never put it down on paper. So, this program has encouraged me to document my work in a more academic and systematic way. I’ve already published two international peer-reviewed papers in since I joined the program! They’re not legal papers, but this program gave me insight on how to write one. They have been well appreciated globally. That’s another skill that I picked up.

Want to learn more about the Professional LLM in Labour Relations and Employment Law? Sign up for an Information Session!