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Asean regional centre launched to tackle the future of work

SINGAPORE has launched a regional centre to help Asean member-states prepare for the future of work.

The new Regional Centre for the Future of Work will be advised by Asean Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi and relevant international experts.

The initiative is especially timely amid Covid-19, according to Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo, who launched the centre on Tuesday.

She was delivering the keynote address at the HR Tech Festival Asia 2020, a three-day online event for international executives and human resource (HR) practitioners.

The pandemic has forced businesses to go digital and adopt remote working arrangements overnight, said Mrs Teo. It has also taken a heavy toll on livelihoods. The new centre is aimed at helping member-states respond to these challenges.

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"Lockdown measures and the rapid worsening of economic conditions have led to heightened unemployment and temporary layoffs," she said. "In Asia and the Pacific alone, the total loss in working hours for the second quarter of 2020 was equivalent to 235 million full-time jobs."

Mrs Teo was citing figures by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as at June 2020. The ILO also estimated at the time that 35 million of these full-time jobs were lost in South-east Asia, which the new regional centre will primarily serve.

She acknowledged that Singapore has not been spared. Unemployment rose to 2.8 per cent in June, the highest in more than a decade. In the second quarter, the proportion of retrenched residents who found a new job within six months also fell to an all-time low of 58 per cent.

The idea for the new centre was first mooted as a regional initiative to Asean leaders and ILO representatives last April, at the 2019 Singapore Conference on the Future of Work.

The centre will champion embracing technology for inclusive growth, workplace safety and health, and tripartite relations.

Its first initiative is the "Asean Future of Work" conference track at the ongoing HR Tech Festival, where Mrs Teo spoke. Speakers lined up include senior Asean officials, as well as representatives from multinational companies, unions and the ILO.

The centre will be organising more conferences over the next few years, in collaboration with the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

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