Strengthen social safety nets to meet new job turbulence

In the Industrial Revolution of the 18th to 19th centuries, machines changed human life.

Now, we have the technology revolution.

Though we see many positive sides, of late, the technology headwind has been disrupting our traditional economy, killing many skilled jobs and remodelling professions such as banking, accounting, computer programming and human-based service sectors.

Automation is reaching a peak, with robots, artificial intelligence and machine reading technology replacing people en masse.

The Industrial Revolution came slowly and steadily, but the technology revolution is an unpredictable and sudden tsunami, bringing abrupt devastation.

The impact of this is felt all around, especially in the developed economies, and has given rise to the Gig Economy.

Full-time employment with welfare facilities is degenerating into dry, fixed-period contracts. "Hire and fire" is becoming the rule of the day, and routine jobs are heading for "cheap" locations.

Social security nets are failing to protect skilled wage earners after they lose their jobs. Pro-employee industrial legislation is a forgotten episode.

The developed countries with a legacy of social welfare are trying to restructure the schemes to match this new turbulence in the job market.

One radical scheme is a universal basic income for all, irrespective of wealth and profession ("Why the debate on unconditional basic income is relevant for S'pore"; Tuesday).

This guarantees people's sustenance, and they can work for additional income. It's a new idea, but one that is spreading fast.

The Gig Economy is already taking a toll on Singapore.

Though unemployment is low at present, looking deeper will make it clear that job losses are happening more for the medium- and high-skilled jobs rather than unskilled ones.

In fact, we don't have an adequate social safety net to support these workers.

We have to find a way to initiate a social welfare package for the victims of the Gig Economy, as just subsidised training support may not be good enough.

Human civilisation was initiated by human beings. At the end of the day, human beings have to lead happy and meaningful lives. Only then will society prosper.

Atanu Roy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'Strengthen social safety nets to meet new job turbulence'. Print Edition | Subscribe