Blueprint on future of work needed

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The government should invite industry captains and unions to provide their understanding of the future of work, says Ronald Benjamin.

The 108th session of the International Labour Conference on 10-21 June 2019 in Geneva was significant in addressing the future of work.

The event came at a most crucial time in history, at a time when there is a revolutionary leap into the fourth industrial revolution, a shift towards a green economy and questions over what the future would be like for workers in the formal and informal sectors.

The Ministry of Human Resources should rebrand itself as a business, employment and innovation ministry in line with the significant role it plays in promoting a human-centred agenda for the future of work.

A new and revolutionary aspect of work which is the antithesis to neoliberalism has been expounded in Geneva: people and the work they do should be at the centre of economic and social policy and business practices. This agenda focuses on three pillars of action.

Firstly, it means investing in people’s capabilities, enabling them to acquire skills, to reskill and upskill and supporting them through the various transitions they face over the course of their lives. The current focus of the ministry on technical and vocational training is a step in the right direction.

What is required is how to certify workers who are already skilled through years of experience. There is a need to identify what constitutes a skilled worker in diverse industries. Many industries are lukewarm about certifying their workers, fearing they would need to increase their salaries.

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For industries, especially the small and medium-sized ones, it is vital to move up the value chain by reassessing their processes and breaking down tasks to see where they can automate. The continuous dependent on cheap labour should be a thing of the past.

There is the integrated aspect of upgrading skills and increasing productivity. Towards this end, it is vital for industries to gradually automate their processes by formulating digital policies. The human resources departments in industries would play a critical role in this context.

Secondly, we need to invest in the institutions of work to ensure a future of work with freedom, dignity, economic security and equality. In this context it is vital to do away with jobs that are unproductive.

For example, there are people collecting money at the entrances of toilets in the public and private domains. There are times when I walk into a government department, I see the receptionist sitting around without working. It would be far more efficient and cost-effective if these functions could be enlarged through multitasking. The tasks of receptionists and those collecting money at toilets could be automated, giving people dignified jobs where they could unleash their talents.

The other aspect is the importance of coming up with human resources policies that encourage a work- life balance. This should move in tandem with the technological process. There is a need to identify jobs that could be done through flexible working hours. It is in the spirit of human-centered work to do away with short-term contracts in the public and private sectors that take away job security.

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To this end, it is vital to classify jobs that are permanent in nature and those that are short term. To augment the dignity of people and work, it is time the government amends the Trade Unions Act in the spirit freedom of association. Unions should be far more representative organisations. The government should ratify the convention on freedom of association at the next sitting of the International Labour Organization.

Thirdly, we need to invest in decent and sustainable work to shape rules and incentives and align economic and social policy with business practice. By harnessing transformative technologies, demographic opportunities and the green economy, this investment could be provide powerful drivers of equity and sustainability for the present and future generation.

In this context, there is a transitional phase that would require a timeframe and the combined synergy of the government, employers and unions to move the nation forward. This would entail coming up with people-oriented policies related to the green economy, trade and investment, finance and human capital development.

To make this a reality, the Ministry of Human Resources should come with a blueprint on the future of work through a tripartite consensus with employers and unions.

We need a common understanding of what constitutes a human-centred agenda for the future of work. The government should invite industry captains and unions to provide their understanding of the future of work. Hopefully, the Pakatan Harapan government will take this challenge seriously in the next four years.

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