Shaping the future workforce

PwC Malaysia People and Organisation and Social Impact leader Kartina Abdul Latif says by fostering a supportive environment, Malaysia can position itself as a leader in promoting fairness, stability and innovation in the gig economy.

THE Gig Workers Commission bill is timely in light of the gig economy’s growth in recent years, challenging the need for a new narrative around work that aligns with technological advancements and changing mindsets.

Gig work’s flexibility and on-demand solutions attracts individuals and, by extension, benefits consumers through its efficiencies and innovations. Additionally, it enables organisations to hire professionals for specific skills or projects.

However, given that gig work is contractual and not formal employment, workers may not be able to access essential employee benefits such as social security and welfare.

Several governments have improved working conditions and provide greater protection for gig workers, such as California’s Assembly Bill 5 and the UK’s Good Work Plan.

Due to the nuanced differences between gig workers and employees, as well as the varying work schedules and circumstances influencing perceptions of commitment and work quality, these initiatives may present new challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all solution; supporting gig workers is essential, but any action must be carefully tailored to local context and needs.

The bill can only be effective if it takes into consideration the unique economic, social and cultural landscape of Malaysia, including work structures and culture. This involves engaging with local communities and understanding the specific needs and concerns of gig workers.

The bill is expected to enhance legal protection, expand social safety nets and encourage continuous learning and upskilling for 1.12 million gig workers, aligning with Malaysia’s broader national agenda involving skills development and economic growth.

Shifting responsibility

As the gig economy gains traction, there is a pressing need to redefine the employer-employee relationship that is the foundation of labour law.

PwC’s 2023 Hopes and Fears survey highlighted flexible working arrangements as one of the most valued components of work among Malaysian employees. This is true for gig workers. But gig work, in its unpredictable and sometimes unstable nature, has its own set of challenges.

Gig workers often struggle with inconsistent earnings, insufficient access to protection schemes or reward programmes typically offered to full-time employees and the lack of job security.

Labour laws must be modernised to accommodate gig workers who defy traditional employment categories. Employers must also rethink workforce planning and talent management practices beyond mere labour obligations.

Recognising its reciprocal nature is crucial: Gig workers must also acknowledge their part by offering valuable skills and expertise in exchange for employer protections and opportunities.

The future of work is not a zero-sum game. For organisations, gig work combines technological innovation with diverse contractual relationships, reducing transaction and labour costs.

Greater protection of gig workers may encourage more people to join the gig economy. This will benefit organisations by improving their access to a diverse pool of talent without the long-term commitment of traditional employment.

From content writers and programmers to digital marketers and graphic designers, gig workers and employers can collaborate dynamically on projects and allocate resources efficiently. People who have left the workforce due to family or personal reasons could be attracted to gig work, which offers flexibility and opportunity.

Addressing skills mismatches and filling gaps with specialised skills, gig workers help organisations remain agile and competitive in the know-ledge economy.

The bill is expected to indirectly enhance organisational productivity and innovation, ensuring a mutually beneficial environment for both employers and gig workers, while aligning with the Sustainable Development Goal around decent work and employment.

As the nature of work changes, so must organisations’ workforce planning strategies and the broader job landscape. With the rise of the gig economy and an increase in talent supply, organisations must transform towards a more agile and skill-based workforce. This means creating a workforce composed of permanent and temporary workers based on the skill sets necessary to complete different projects.

Self-employed workers tend to have limited access to training opportunities. The bill is expected to address this gap by providing skills training resources, from entry into the gig economy and continuous development across the career lifecycle.

Recent initiatives like the Bina Kerjaya career building programme which encourages gig workers to attend government-funded training programmes, aligns with these plans, complemented by income replacement incentives.

Agencies like HRD Corp also have a role to play in facilitating access to training for informal workers, benefiting employers through the levy paid while allowing gig employees to continuously upskill themselves to meet evolving market demands.

However, a key consideration is digital fluency. Not everyone has equal access to digital platforms or the digital skills to fully utilise these resources for gig work.

This suggests a need for skills training programmes that enhance digital fluency, ensuring equal opportunities for all individuals to participate and thrive in the gig economy. To further drive this initiative, the government could give employers tax incentives for such programmes.

Gig workers play a unique role in the workforce and will continue to grow in importance. Policymakers, employers and gig workers alike must envision a future where the gig economy and traditional employment not only coexist but also complement one another.

This means blending the benefits of flexible gig work with the security of conventional jobs, avoiding unconscious biases when hiring and integrating gig workers into the workforce.

By fostering a supportive environment, Malaysia can position itself as a leader in promoting fairness, stability and innovation in the gig economy.

This article first appeared in Star Biz7 weekly edition.

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