Assistant Professor of Sociology
Singapore University of Technology and Design
Keywords: labour, proactive governance, social justice, COVID-19
Synopsis: Social inequalities exacerbated by job losses due to automation and the pandemic can be mitigated by seeking collaborative and inclusive work policies. This requires proactive governance, a model which includes multiple players providing feedback to create opportunities such as upskilling for people of all ages. One such example is Singapore, where tripartite consensus plays a significant role in job creation and skills evolution. Each country should create its own inclusive model.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has worsened glaring social inequalities for those in jobs made redundant by automation or economic losses. Particularly, those in precarious jobs and those in affected sectors such as tourism, services, hospitality, among others, compounded with an overall lack of state and employer support for childcare, eldercare, housework, and regular paid work. Furthermore, accelerated automaton and digitization, which is happening anyway due to artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithm driven innovation means that constant upskilling is required to handle the flux caused by economic and pandemic related disruptions.
Studies show that precarious workers do not have equal access to upskilling opportunities or many of them are not part of the conversation in policy making due to lack of social empowerment or access to organized representation in most countries. What is necessary is inclusive proactive governance to provide extensive retraining and more work opportunities. Proactive governance goes a step further than just citizen involvement, which most governments already consider. Proactive governance as outlined in the forthcoming book Shaping the Futures of Work: Proactive Governance and Millennials is when citizens, the private and public sectors engage in active conversations about shaping employment opportunities for the future through consensus. This involves creating viable retraining opportunities as a pillar of economic and social development coupled deeply with social harmony, meritocracy, and fairness. While no country can guarantee equal outcomes for all, it is important to level the playing field by bridging the glaring gaps in employment opportunities.
Collaborative consensus is heavily dependent on effective social dialogue to promote social justice, inclusive economic growth, improved wages and working conditions and sustainable enterprises. One such example is Singapore’s model of tripartite consensus for its work-related policies such as retirement, provident fund contributions (CPF) and reskilling. While this model is not without challenges, it takes concerted effort from the government, labour unions and firms to create positive social conditions by facing economic challenges as quickly as possible while taking into account the needs of all those that are involved.
The Singapore government has provided numerous opportunities that are workfare based so that affected members of the population could be re-trained and re-hired in other sectors. While generous welfare packages are also handed out to businesses and citizens to bear economic losses, the principal idea is to help people tide future crises of unemployment by promoting policies that are not only targeted at alleviating the pandemic, but to also prepare them for further technological changes that would reshape the future of work.
Hopefully the painful lessons of the pandemic can push countries to reform their work and education policies. Countries need to look beyond the current pandemic when it comes to providing reskilling opportunities. At the heart of the matter of a post-pandemic progressive future is providing decent work opportunities to people with diverse abilities and skills and not letting automation outpace the need for human labour. International bodies such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Economic Forum should continue to provide relevant and customizable frameworks for countries to adapt and help mitigate challenges caused by automation and a prolonged pandemic that will eventually slow down.
Nilanjan Raghunath is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Singapore University of Technology and Design, where she undertakes research on the sociology of work and social stratification in the 4th Industrial Revolution. Nilanjan’s forthcoming book is entitled Shaping the Futures of Work: Proactive Governance and Millennials.