A new centre that aims to boost regional collaboration so as to prepare Asean for the changing nature of work was launched yesterday.
The Regional Centre for the Future of Work will bring together international experts and regional tripartite stakeholders to foster social dialogue, share knowledge and build capabilities, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, announcing the launch at a virtual conference.
This comes as Covid-19 causes upheaval in labour markets worldwide.
Mrs Teo highlighted how, in the Asia-Pacific region alone, the amount of working hours lost in the second quarter of the year was equivalent to 235 million full-time jobs.
Vulnerable workers in informal and low-wage work were the hardest hit.
"We (Asean countries) face common challenges related to the digital transformation of industries, implementing safe workplace measures and adapting HR (human resource) strategies to enable workers to fulfil their potential," said the minister in her keynote address at the start of the three-day HR Tech Festival Asia conference.
The new regional centre was mooted by Singapore at a conference last year, where Asean labour ministers adopted a joint statement on the future of work.
The centre will support Asean in putting the statement into action by focusing on three areas that have become even more relevant during the pandemic, said Mrs Teo.
The first involves embracing technology for inclusive growth. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the workforce's adoption of technology can be sped up if there is a strong enough impetus, noted the minister.
Prioritising workplace safety and health, including the fight against virus transmission, is also of growing importance and an area of consensus, she said.
Lastly, tripartite collaboration in designing practical solutions to address emerging challenges is ever more critical amid a continuing economic crisis.
"Whether it is creating new jobs and training opportunities, implementing cost-cutting measures or managing excess manpower, governments, employers' and workers' organisations must work together to ensure that businesses and workers can continue to thrive during this pandemic and beyond, especially those in lower-end and more precarious jobs," said Mrs Teo.
She said the centre's first initiative is the Asean Future of Work conference track, part of the HR Tech Festival Asia event.
NEW CENTRE'S AREAS OF FOCUS
Embracing technology for inclusive growth. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the workforce's adoption of technology can be sped up if there is a strong enough impetus, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.
Prioritising workplace safety and health, including the fight against virus transmission, is also of growing importance and an area of consensus, said the minister.
Tripartite collaboration in designing practical solutions to address emerging challenges is ever more critical amid a continuing economic crisis.
The centre is also working with the Workplace Safety and Health Council to organise the Singapore Workplace Safety and Health e-Conference 2020 in November, and plans to organise a workshop called Leaders In Tripartism early next year.
For a start, it will have as advisers Asean secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi, Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency president Park Doo-yong and Singapore's National Trades Union Congress president Mary Liew, who is a deputy member of the workers' group of the International Labour Organisation's governing body.
A Ministry of Manpower spokesman told The Straits Times that the full slate of advisers will be announced later this year, and that the centre is hosted and staffed by a team from the ministry.
Speaking about the impact of Covid-19 on labour markets, Mrs Teo said workers in Singapore have not been spared.
But in managing the crisis, there is also the opportunity to prepare for an eventual economic recovery and for the future of work, she said.
"We can do this by helping workers stay employed and employable, ensuring safe working and transforming our economy and businesses to seize opportunities. These continue to be priorities for Singapore, even as we focus on battling the public health crisis," she added.