3 ways countries can build a better future for work

A future featuring resilience and inclusivity is the direction many countries are charting while the pandemic wanes and the world recovers.

So establishing a stable environment for decent work and social justice is high on the agenda of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 17th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting (APRM) currently (Dec 6-9) taking place in Singapore.

The ILO is the United Nations’s only tripartite agency. It brings governments, employers and workers from 187 Member States together to develop decent work for people.

And we in Singapore know a thing or three about tripartism.

ILO Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo recently co-penned a commentary with our own Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng about just how countries can build this better future: through work-rich growth, a strong framework for the workforce and an inclusive society.

Let’s take a quick dive into their thoughts.

Work-rich growth

It’s not just about the number of jobs. The type matters too.

“This means that countries do not just grow the number of jobs, but also grow the quality of the jobs in aspects such as productivity and value-addedness,” wrote Minister Tan and Mr Houngbo.

So government, employers and workers need to have dialogue for this social compact: this aligns expectations with capabilities and ambitions.

“Singapore subscribes wholeheartedly to this approach of social dialogue,” noted the authors, citing how the PAP Government works with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) on labour policies and priorities.

Plus, the PAP Government helped employees and employers get through the pandemic with skills training as well as wage support schemes like the Job Growth Incentive and Jobs Support Scheme.

These efforts worked. As 2022 ends, Singapore’s employment rate of residents aged 15 and above is 67.5 per cent.

Source: Labour Force in Singapore Advance Release 2022, MOM

This is up from the 2019 pre-pandemic rate of 65.2 per cent.

Singapore’s employment rate in fact, now ranks third among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, noted the authors.

Strong framework

Building resiliency and inclusiveness is a lot like building that dream house.

Strong pillars are needed: effective pro-employment policies, social protection, a respect for labour rights, constructive social dialogue and an enabling business environment.

Every part in the workforce benefits this way. It’s not always easy to balance these pillars, though, with new ways to work gaining popularity in recent years.

“Take the rise of the platform economy, which has the potential to provide millions of people with opportunities to earn an income through a new form of work,” wrote Minister Tan and Mr Houngbo.

“However, it raises the important question of how we can create a labour policy framework that ensures platform workers receive sufficient social protection and labour rights, while maintaining an enabling business environment.”

Singapore’s responded on this particular point through social dialogue with key stakeholders.

There’s a framework now, which is practical and sustainable for both platform workers and companies.

It ensures adequate financial protection for platform workers in case of work injury, improves their housing and retirement adequacy as well as gives them the right to seek formal representation through a new representation framework designed for platform workers.

“These form the foundation of a labour policy framework that would better protect workers as new forms of work emerge, while maintaining a vibrant business environment,” wrote Minister Tan and Mr Houngbo.

Inclusive society

Four billion people worldwide currently have no access to social protection.

Here, the United Nations’s Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions initiative works towards changing that.

“It aims to forge a collective effort to address key bottlenecks around financing and policy coherence to support the creation of at least 400 million decent jobs primarily in the green, digital and care sectors,” states the initiative’s official website.

It’s a long-term plan for all stakeholders to enter into a new social contract focusing on peace, equitable economic growth, protection of the environment, and social justice.

Source: ILO

Singapore’s on board with this plan.

“In line with this, Singapore is implementing ambitious plans to uplift our lower-wage workers,” wrote the authors.

“Through a significant expansion of the Progressive Wage Model, lower-wage workers will see their wages grow at a faster rate than the median. They will also have clear progression paths and upskilling opportunities.”

Minister Tan also pointed out Forward Singapore, the national dialogue exercise for reviewing and refreshing our nation’s social compact, also builds towards this inclusive society.

Source: Forward Singapore

So… which way next?

These tips come while the world’s recovery is ongoing.

“Recent estimates from the ILO show that in the third quarter of 2022, the number of hours worked remained at 1.5 per cent below pre-pandemic levels in the Asia-Pacific region, and 1.8 per cent in the Arab states – a deficit equivalent to almost 28 million full-time jobs across the two regions,” wrote Minister Tan and Mr Houngbo.

“Many workers have seen their wages sharply decline, even as food and energy costs have risen,” they added.

Which way next for us and for Singapore? How can we as workers get empowered and included in this new post-pandemic world?

Perhaps the answers — and the direction forward — are here.

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