HR Tech Festival Asia Online 2020: Navigating ASEAN towards a better future

Government and industry leaders from Southeast Asia converged at the ASEAN Future of Work Track to discuss how the region can emerge stronger from the crisis.
By: | September 30, 2020

Like many parts of the world, Southeast Asia has not been spared from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries in the region are still grappling with the economic and employment crisis that has cost millions of jobs.

And there is no better time and place for leaders in the region to come together to share insights, knowledge and experience than at the ASEAN Future Of Work Track of the HR Tech Festival Asia Online 2020, where they discuss how Southeast Asia can emerge from this crisis stronger. 

Kicking off the ASEAN Future Of Work Track was Aubeck Kam, Permanent Secretary, Singapore Ministry of Manpower. He gave an overview of Singapore’s response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labour market and how the tripartite partners and government came together to support employers and employees.

“When Singapore recorded its first case of COVID-19 in late January, we had already seen how it had disrupted people’s way of life and livelihoods, especially in China. Singapore’s response to the impact of COVID-19 in the labor market is really part of our national response which we call SG United,” he shared.

“We convened the National Wages Council ahead of time in March in order to provide clearer tripartite guidance on how workers and how companies should respond. The Council sent a clear message that in dealing with the uncertainty of the months ahead, flexibility was crucial. 

“So we asked employers to first consider time banking because this will preserve wages while allowing unworked hours to be credited and could be used when demand returns. Wage adjustment was also another option. We also made it clear that if employers had less need for their workers’ time, they should not discourage their workers from seeking secondary jobs to supplement any lost income. And finally, retrenchment would have to be a last resort and if needed should be carried out fairly. 

“And on its part the government also announced a job support scheme worth SG$23.5 million dollars. The scheme provides a tiered wage support with up to 75% wage support going to the most heavily affected sectors such as aviation and tourism,” he added.

Turning the spotlight on Vietnam is Dr Ha Thi Minh Duc, Deputy Director General of International Cooperation Department, Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

She highlighted the tremendous impact of COVID-19 on Vietnam’s labour market in the first two quarters of 2020 and urged for more cooperation and support in the region’s journey towards recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No single country can cope with the impact of COVID-19 alone. We are all a part of the global supply chain and impact on one link will travel along the line to other parts,” she said.

The conversation and discussion on how to build a better future of work in Southeast Asia continued during the Panel Discussion on Building A Better Post-COVID Future Of Work. 

Highlighting the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) role in supporting workers and businesses during this crisis, Graeme Buckley, Director, DWT/CO-Bangkok, emphasised ILO’s commitment in helping create more jobs and strengthen social protection systems in the region.

“The ILO has been promoting a four-prong policy approach. Firstly to stimulate the economy and create jobs. Secondly, to support enterprises and the livelihoods of their workers. Thirdly, to protect workers at the workplace. And fourthly, to foster social dialogue,” he said.

“We need to work together, both to keep businesses in business and to protect workers through a whole range of different schemes. One key area for us to take this opportunity to strengthen social protection systems in the region,” he added.

From an organisation’s perspective, Microsoft has supported workers through technology during this pandemic to ensure that they are not left behind by digitalisation.

Lynn Dang, HR Lead, Microsoft Singapore, shared, “Here at Microsoft, we have been able to help our customers which include education institutions, governments, healthcare, large enterprises, and SMEs as well, to keep workers working even during the pandemic. 

“There has been a massive acceleration and adoption of digital technologies which has helped prevent an even deeper economic and job crisis. Tech tools such as video conferencing and cloud platforms have allowed people to keep working during this crisis,” she added.

Shoya Yoshida, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation – Asia Pacific, discussed the challenges workers will face post-COVID-19 and how they can partner their governments and employers.

“The biggest challenge workers and unions is to make sure that the paradigm shift keeps going in the direction of inclusivity and income-net growth. The key is collaboration on the regional, global, corporation as well as government level,” he explained.

“Through this pandemic, we have witnessed how fragile businesses are. HR policy must focus on improving every worker’s ability, not just the higher management,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organisations and employees in Southeast Asia to rethink and approach employment and recruitment differently. And there’s a need for a more open and agile workforce to meet the changing needs and new roles that are being created. 

During the panel discussion “Employment Facilitation Post-COVID, For A Better Recovery”, Sim Gim Guan, Executive Director, Singapore National Employers Federation, called for more openness from both employers and employees as they seek to adapt to the new normal.

“We need openness from both employers and employees. For example, jobseekers may not have the necessary skills to meet employers skill demands. But employers can send the workers for training to close the skills gap,” he said.

“They should look at other attributes of the jobseekers such as attitude and aptitude. Employees, on the other hand, need to be open to taking on new challenges. Perhaps they can even consider moving into a new industry to rebuild their career,” he added.

Besides the need to be open to new opportunities for upskilling, there can be better support for the workforce and employers through employment programmes and schemes to cater to the different types of people such as aging workers, freelancers and self-employed, said Gilbert Tan, Chief Executive Officer, Employment and Employability Institute.

“The world and the economy are facing multiple issues at the moment. The way people face employment, whether they are freelancers, self-employed or employed, is also changing. There are many other factors such as aging population that are coming into play and affecting the traditional way we think of employment, employees and employers,” he explained. 

“So being relevant for different groups of people is important. For example, if they are aging, how can we make sure employment facilitation is relevant to them. 

“And for employers, they are trying to come out stronger from this crisis and to be able to transform quicker. So on the national level, how can we support them through programmes and schemes, and even adjust and update the laws to meet these new trends and demands of the workforce?” he added.