Asean labour ministers discuss initiative to build capacity to manage future of work

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo speaking at the opening ceremony of the Singapore Conference on the Future of Work on April 29, 2019.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo speaking at the opening ceremony of the Singapore Conference on the Future of Work on April 29, 2019.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - A new Asean initiative is in the works to boost the region's ability to prepare for the changing nature of work.

The idea of a Future of Work Regional Initiative was mooted by Singapore and discussed by Asean labour ministers at a conference on Monday (April 29).

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said at the opening ceremony of the conference that Singapore believes it will benefit Asean to bring together international experts and regional stakeholders to share and develop the region's capabilities through workshops, seminars and courses.

"We will need a platform for Asean to continuously learn from each other, build capacity and share best practices," she said.

She said her ministry will work with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), as well as Asean, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other stakeholders to explore how to bring the idea to fruition.

For a start, she said, the focus can be on three areas: tripartism, workplace safety and health, and embracing technology for inclusive growth.

On Monday, Mrs Teo and her Asean counterparts signed a joint statement on the future of work, committing to improve education and training standards to harness technology, and to increase the labour force participation of women, people with disabilities, young people and the elderly, among other things.


They also agreed to promote fiscally sustainable public and private national social protection initiatives to improve workers’ retirement adequacy, and to support efforts of employers’ and workers’ organisations in developing means for collective representation and social dialogue.

About 700 international delegates attended the Singapore Conference on the Future of Work: Embracing Technology; Inclusive Growth, at Raffles City Convention Centre.

The conference, which centres around the Work for a Brighter Future report published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in January, takes place on Monday and Tuesday. It is organised by the ILO, Ministry of Manpower, NTUC and SNEF.

Mrs Teo said workers, businesses and the Government must be agile.

For workers, this means being proactive in picking up new skills to stay relevant, as promoted by the SkillsFuture movement. For businesses, it means taking advantage of technology and training to keep pace with industry transformation, improve the quality of jobs and help workers be more productive and empowered, she said.

For the Government, it means staying responsive, taking the lead to point out future directions and pitfalls, making resources available and bringing key stakeholders together, she added.

Mrs Teo also said that Singapore recognises the need to support career mobility for workers - providing options and opportunities to advance for young graduates, workers in general, seniors and those in low-wage jobs.

It also regularly reviews employment legislation, policies and programmes to ensure adequate and appropriate labour and social protection, an inclusive workforce and progressive workplaces, she added.

Asean remains a place of potential, amid the challenges of demographics, technology and climate change, which have the potential to disrupt the nature of work, said the minister. There must be a focus on investing in people's capabilities, the institutions of work and making work decent and sustainable.

"To better serve all our workers, let us face our challenges with a balance of humility and confidence," she said.

"Humility because we will never have all the answers to all the questions about the future, confidence because as humans, we have the capacity to learn and adapt, not just to survive but thrive."

ILO director-general Guy Ryder said in a speech that there is a lot to celebrate in Asean’s growth. He highlighted how in the last century, millions of Asians moved to Europe and North America for work but now, entrepreneurial Europeans and Americans are flocking to Asia, attracted by the region’s dynamism.

“Asia has become the heart of digital innovation, and there is that sense of optimism here,” he said.

Despite this, innovation does not guarantee decent work or inclusive growth for all, he noted. Last year, one in five workers in Asean was living below the poverty line.

Mr Ryder said the ILO will do everything within its capacity to make the Future of Work Regional Initiative happen.

If governments can work together with employers and working people to find balanced and consensual solutions to challenges, this can open the way to a “reinvigoration of the social contract – this tacit agreement in our societies between people and institutions about what is fair, what is legitimate, what they want from the future of their lives and countries”, he said.