THE 108th session of the International Labour Conference that was held from June 10 to 21
in Geneva, Switzerland was significant, especially with the revolutionary leap into Industry 4.0, exodus towards the green economy and uncertain future for workers in the formal and informal sector.
I believe the Human Resources Ministry should rebrand itself as a business, employment and innovation ministry in line with the significant role it plays in a human-centred agenda for the future of work.
A new and revolutionary aspect of work, where people and the work they do are at the centre of economic and social policy and business practices, was expounded at the conference.
This agenda focuses on three pillars of action.
Firstly, investing in the capabilities of people, enabling them to acquire skills, reskill and upskill, and supporting them through the various transitions confronting them over the course of their lives.
The current focus of the Human Resources Ministry on technical and vocational training is in the right direction. But there is a need to identify what constitutes a skilled worker in diverse industries.
Many industries are lukewarm in certifying their workers, fearing that they would need to increase salaries. For industries, especially small and medium size enterprises, it is vital to move up the value chain by reassessing their processes and breaking down tasks to see where they can automate.
Our continuous dependence on cheap labour should be a thing of the past. Towards this end, it is vital for industries to gradually automate their processes by formulating digital policies and upgrading skills to increase productivity.
Secondly, investing in workplaces 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.
There are times when I walk into a government department and see a receptionist sitting idle. It would be more efficient and cost effective if functions like this are enlarged through multitasking. It is also important to encourage human resources policies, such as having flexible hours, that encourage work-life balance.
To augment the dignity of people and work, it’s time for the government to amend the Trade Unions Act to foster freedom of association. The government should rectify the convention of freedom of association in the next ILO sitting.
Thirdly, investing in decent and sustainable work and shaping rules and incentives to align economic and social policy and business practice. By harnessing transformative technologies, demographic opportunities and the green economy, this investment could be powerful drivers of equity and sustainability for the present and future generation.
In this context, there is a transitional phase that would require a time frame and a 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.
There is a need for 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 on the future of work.
It is hoped that the Pakatan Harapan government would take this challenge seriously in the next three years.