THE 108th session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, last month was significant in terms of addressing the future of work.
This comes at a crucial time in history where there is a leap into Industry 4.0, an exodus to the green economy, and how the future would be for workers in the formal and informal sector.
The Human Resources Ministry should rebrand itself as a business and innovation ministry in line with the role it plays in a human-centred agenda for the future of work.
This agenda focuses on three pillars of action. Firstly, it means investing in workers’ capabilities, enabling them to acquire skills, re-skill and upskill and supporting them through the transitions.
The focus of the ministry on technical and vocational training is in the right direction. What is required is how to certify workers who are skilled through years of experience.
There is a need to identify what constitutes a skilled worker in diverse industries. Many industries are lukewarm in certifying their workers, fearing they would need to increase their salaries.
For industries, especially small- and medium-sized ones, it is vital to move up the value chain by reassessing their processes and breaking down tasks to see where they can automate.
The dependency on cheap labour should be a thing of the past. It is vital for industries to automate their processes by formulating digital policies.
Secondly, investing in the institutions of work to ensure a future of work with freedom, economic security and equality.
In this context, it is vital to do away with jobs that are unproductive.
As an example, there are people collecting money at public toilet entrances. In government departments, I see receptionists sitting around without working.
It would be cost effective if their functions could be diversified through multi-tasking.
The other aspect is the importance of coming up with human resource policies that encourage work-life balance.
This should move in tandem with technological process. There is a need to identify jobs that can be done through flexi-hours.
It is vital to classify jobs that are permanent in nature and those that are short term. To augment the dignity of people and work, its time the government amends the Trade Unions Act in the spirit of freedom for associations.
Unions should be a far more representative organisation. The government should rectify the convention of freedom of association at the next labour conference.
Thirdly, investing in decent and sustainable work and shaping rules, as well as 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 generations.
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.
To make this a reality, the ministry should come with a blue-print on the future of work through a tripartite consensus with employers and unions.
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 four years.
Secretary, Association for Community and Dialogue