Panellists: Tech can improve livelihoods of vulnerable workers

Technology can be a tool to help workers in their jobs, and help those in vulnerable positions access better livelihoods, panellists said yesterday at a conference on the future of work.

Technology can play a major role in making traditional trades more attractive to young people, and in creating new livelihoods when workers are displaced, said Ms Reema Nanavaty, who leads the Self Employed Women's Association, a union of informal sector workers in India.

In rural parts of India, for example, women have been able to plug into the tourism industry through Airbnb, said Ms Nanavaty, who is also a member of the International Labour Organisation's Global Commission on the Future of Work.

"I don't think the poor really need charity; they just need an enabling environment," she said.

Professor Vanessa Evers, director of the Nanyang Technological University Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity, also gave the example of a robot improving the jobs of therapists who can use it to communicate better with children with severe autism.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Low Yen Ling said that in Singapore, for instance, government agencies are bringing "plug and go" digital solutions to mom and pop shops, showing them successful examples of how technology can be applied.

But panellists also raised concerns about the challenges in protecting workers in the platform economy and in helping workers accept technology.

"We don't know who is taking a job, how many hours they are working, and working conditions... How to govern the working conditions, how should we maintain industrial relations?" said Japanese Trade Union Confederation adviser on international affairs Akiko Gono.

Ms Gono said trust between workers and management is key when introducing technology. She listed three principles for boosting productivity being promoted in Japan: consultation between workers and management, no redundancies, and ensuring workers have a fair share of productivity improvements.

Joanna Seow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2019, with the headline 'Panellists: Tech can improve livelihoods of vulnerable workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe