Viewpoint by Jayasri Priyalal*
SINGAPORE (IDN) — How many of us can predict continuing to hold the job that we do currently into the future? That is the challenge many policyholders grapple to address to develop strategies to stimulate the stalled economies to grow sustainably.
The concept of a job is disappearing as there is an increasing trend of atomization of work processes with technological infiltration. As such, job security is fading away, and the employability of human talent is gaining prominence.
The question that dominates in the new world of work is whether the concept of a job will remain to provide security for the life course of the holder. Are we now getting used to finding only work for a living? Still, there is work to be done for the shared prosperity of all.
Evolving technology has impacted human civilization—from fire to improvised tools to steam engines to the modern Internet. Technology frees up talent to be deployed in creative problem-solving and solution-building in businesses.
Human society is a collection of the contribution of labour in terms of mental and manual skills. Work and job entrepreneurship are the essential building blocks in communities. Migration is the natural response when many challenges compel change in humans and other living beings throughout human civilization. Managing individual talents to spot opportunities for aspiring people to secure Livelihood is crucial.
Pandemics are turning points in human civilization
In-depth analysis and historical trends reveal that global pandemics such as COVID-19 have left remarkable turning points in work and labour-related social and economic conditions.
A marketplace for labour and payment of wages for work emerged after the Bubonic plague, or the Black Death, hit the feudal European territories in the mid-fourteenth century (1352). The plague killed almost half of the population. Landlords’ feudal masters lost millions of serfs. They had to find labour—human power—by paying wages, adding value to economic activities, and securing a dignified life for millions of wage earners. The black death ended serfdom in Europe; the bubonic plague was a turning point in civilization.
Again, in the early twentieth century, another pandemic known as the Spanish flu further changed the lives of wage earners. The organized labour movement was concerned about the work-life balance, freedom, welfare, health, and well-being of those selling labour around the clock.
At the end of WWI, in 1919, the International Labour Organization (ILO) prescribed the critical eight hours of work as its first convention, which is still applicable in setting standards for compensation for those holding a job. The minimum age to start work, limiting night work for the young, and maternity protection for women became norms after that for the good of society.
The COVID-19 pandemic in the twenty-first century sets new standards in the new world of work. Digital technological platforms are the work-cantered ecosystems enabling remote work practices. There are many contributory factors for this development; one is the exponential growth of advanced digital technology, high-speed Internet and SMART tools and APS.
Remote work practices and Flexi/hybrid work systems will further challenge the traditional job concept. The fast Internet of things, equipped with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning abilities, will limit a wage earner to find work for a total of uninterrupted eight hours. Many will switch between parallel careers, lifelong learning, and working. The demographic shift and advances in medical science enable people to live long. Hence managing the ageing population adds further challenges. Eldercare and geriatrics are expanding as different industries worldwide.
Migration in search of Livelihood
The current economic crisis in Sri Lanka is offering another new dimension to the search for jobs. Over 200,000 Sri Lankans with various skills and competencies left the island between February and September 2022. Prevailing uncertainties in the country have pushed many to feel helpless and hopeless. For 2022, the department of immigration issued nearly 875,000 passports. Those with means and good connections are trying to leave the country for any given opportunity as their frustrations have reached the boiling point.
Many Sri Lankan diplomatic missions overseas had only been working to find job opportunities for the kith and kin of the politicians in power earlier. In addition, their role has mainly been to protect Sri Lankans who have gone overseas to work, especially in the unskilled category. However, today diplomatic missions are going all out to help Sri Lankans find job opportunities to strengthen their Livelihood and employability and earn some foreign exchange for the county at this critical juncture.
One such example is Sri Lanka’s mission in Singapore led by career diplomat Ms Shashikala Premawardhana. The High Commission is now exploring job opportunities for skilled Sri Lankan workers in airport & aviation, hospitality, nursing, and shipbuilding. Singapore has very tight foreign labour recruitment policies and many labour-supplying countries are competing to find entry to Singapore.
The high commission is working closely with the Singapore authorities to secure some quotas for Sri Lankans, particularly those in the skilled categories.
Sri Lanka—then known as Ceylon—had been supplying expertise, professional know-how, and workforce to the development of Singapore, the Lion City, since WW II. Troops of the Ceylon Pioneer Corps soldiers were stationed in Singapore to rebuild the city-state following the destruction by the Japanese invasion in 1945. Since then, there has been a continuous flow of Sri Lankan talent finding opportunities in Singapore.
Sri Lanka is now exploring all the options to create a win-win situation, to meet Singapore’s talent needs while helping fellow Sri Lankans to find gainful employment in growing services industries.
Addressing New Trends
In line with the new trend, productivity measurement indicators and skills and competencies upgrading systems need to be re-invented to suit the current techno-culture. The rapid pace of digital disruptions impacts every economic sector demanding new social security and protections.
On the other hand, a workers protection treaty may be needed, where a country with a high technology base but lacking manpower could tap into another country with a lower technology base but with an educated population, where their citizens would be protected under fair working conditions overseas, while talent-supplying country could gain economically via the workers’ remittances.
Such an arrangement between Sri Lanka and Singapore may provide a template.
A global coalition seeking a new social justice is necessary, emphasized Gilbert Houngbo, Director General of ILO, at the recently concluded 17th Asia & Pacific Regional Meeting in Singapore. Perhaps he may have been thinking of such a treaty arrangement between nations.
*The writer is the Regional Director responsible for Finance Sector, Professionals and Managers Group Activities working with UNI Global Union Asia and Pacific Regional Organization in Singapore. [IDN-InDepthNews – 14 January 2023]
Photo: Participants in a Forum in 2022 to explore job possibilities for Sri Lankans in Singapore with the country’s High Commissioner Sashikala Premarwardhane in first row centre. Source: High Commission of Sri Lanka in Singapore.
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