Business

Minister: Businesses and govts must help staff adapt to automation, digitisation

The future of labour cannot involve protecting workers against disruption at the expense of new business models, Second Minister for Manpower and Home Affairs Josephine Teo said yesterday.

Businesses and governments must work together to allay workers' concerns and make sure employees are able to take up the new jobs that will be created from automation and digitisation.

"The catch is that the prospect of a net addition of jobs is comforting only to the extent that the workers involved can find ways to access the new opportunities," she said.

"Otherwise, it is a frightening thought, and you could have a very unhappy situation where unemployment is rising and yet, at the same time, businesses are growing below potential."

Mrs Teo, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, was speaking at the conclusion of the Milken Institute Asia Summit as part of a panel on preparing for jobs some two decades down the road.

She noted that as positions are added in nascent fields such as cyber security, workers do not look set to be replaced entirely - "although there is no doubt that advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning will increase the prevalence of workplace automation".

Filipino conglomerate Ayala Corporation chairman and chief executive Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, another panellist, agreed that workers are seeing new job opportunities arise.

"People are used to seeing the Philippines as a call centre. It has already evolved into a much more complex space," he said.

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"What you have had is a mirror image of our service industry abroad... because of the shift that has taken place in telecommunications and bringing those jobs back to their home country."

People are used to seeing the Philippines as a call centre.It has already evolved into a much more complex space. Mr Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, head of Filipino conglomerate Ayala Corporation

But in the meantime, industry transformation could present a difficult balancing act.

Mrs Teo cited the experience of taxi drivers who may have come under pressure as ride-hailing apps take off.

She said: "This is where governments potentially could get caught.

"On the one hand, you have people who are affected by the change, and they say, 'We want protection from the change'.

"And yet, at the same time, you know that unless you are able to allow the businesses to develop new models of operating that are more efficient and will exploit their potential to the fullest, you do not actually have the opportunity to create better-paying jobs for the people, your citizens."

Under such conditions, said Mrs Teo, governments have a "huge responsibility to their citizens", to help them adapt to their change.

This could involve making sure that skills training and "social security" can adequately meet the needs of workers.

It could also involve building "a sense of solidarity" between industry and labour so both are invested in change and feel that they share a stake in the future.

"The only way in which we can make forward movement is if both businesses and people are prepared to say that we will win together because we are in this together," said Mrs Teo.

*Correction note: This article previously appeared under the headline: Can’t protect workers at cost of progress: Minister

TNP headline gave wrong impression of Minister Teo's remarks

MS SOFFY HARIYANTI
DIRECTOR OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS
MINISTRY OF MANPOWER

The New Paper's headline, "We can't protect workers at the cost of progress" (Sept 16), on Minister Josephine Teo's closing remarks at the Milken Institute Asia Summit, was grossly inaccurate.

It gave the impression that the Government is taking a hands-off approach towards Singaporean workers affected by technological disruptions.

This is not true. What Minister Teo said was that Singapore's strategies to prepare our businesses and people for jobs of the future have to evolve.

Government is mindful that businesses cannot win with technology and innovation at the expense of our workers, nor will it be possible for workers to be protected from technological disruptions in the economy.

To help both workers and businesses adapt and transform, the Government has put in place a range of support measures.

Minister Teo's remarks were to assure workers that the Government, businesses and workers must work together to achieve success in the future.

The New Paper's headline ignores the Government's call for solidarity among businesses and workers to thrive in our future economy.

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