Tech adoption poses social risks for labour force

The technology drive today has failed to address existing insecurities and vulnerabilities in the informal sector


THE accelerated use of new technology across industries due to the Covid-19 pandemic may present challenges to young jobseekers who will be entering the labour market.

International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) Asia Pacific regional secretary Dr Hidayat Greenfield said the technology drive today has failed to address existing insecurities and vulnerabilities in the informal sector.

“It is a real challenge. To some extent, this is why there is a problem in the gig economy and the benefits for young workers because it does not take the informal to the formal sector which has social protection and government support.

“It takes the vulnerability and insecurity present in the informal sector, taps that and adds technology,” he said at a webinar hosted by Research For Social Advancement recently titled “The Future of Work in the New Normal: The Labour Response”.

Hidayat said discussions on the future of work should also include the value of work, which is often ignored.

He cited an example in agricultural work where its contribution has intrinsic value, but the work is not recognised economically or financially. Its value also does not translate to better wages and working conditions in the industry.

“The primary reason is that the value of work is not related to skills, potential and possibilities. The value of work is related to vulnerability.

“The vulnerability I am talking about is discrimination based on gender and race that is embedded in the systemic patriarchy and racism that defines our economic system,” he said.

He added that the rising unemployment due to the pandemic has created fear and insecurity, which would lead to individuals taking jobs out of desperation without prioritising their rights as a worker.

“We need to understand that we can intervene. We have to reassert a couple of fundamental rights such as social protection,” said Hidayat.

Meanwhile, lawyer Anni Santhiago said trade unions in Malaysia have been very persuasive to have engagements with the government to establish a union.

She said, as an example, the electronics industry workers have fought for a national union to be established for decades.

Although the government initially obstructed the formation of a national union for the workers, it then agreed to the formation of four regional unions for the electronic workers starting from 2009.

The four regional unions are divided by the Western region comprising Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Perak; the Southern region (Johor, Melaka and Negri Sembilan); Northern region (Penang, Kedah and Perlis) and Eastern Region (Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang).

“In that sense, as much as the laws have been very restrictive, the trade unions have been very persuasive in putting forward continuous engagement with the government and it resulted in a regional trade union being formed.

“That is very progressive and something we can leverage regarding how we want to move forward and in the strategies that we use in the negotiations,” she said.