Shaping the 2020s: Symposium and paper series for Workers' Future in Asia

Over the past year, FES worked together with 20 researchers from across Asia to analyse the challenges of workers in the region and develop visions for a future that supports socially just, inclusive and resilient growth with workers at the centre.

Almost a year ago, at a time, when we still hoped the length of the pandemic will be measured in months and not years, we called upon scholars, policy practitioners and experts from across Asia to share their Post-Corona Visions for the Future of Work in Asia.

This research series with authors from 10 countries analysed a wide array of topics that will shape the world of work in the next decade: from the reality of work in platform economies, the challenges to and by global supply chains to the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality.


The Symposium on Post-Corona Visions for the Future of Work in Asia

The findings of the series were presented on 24 and 25 November 2020, at the online symposium for workers’ future in Asia. The symposium with four sessions over the span of two days was an intensive and insightful exchange with over 150 registered participants. Each session with three to five speakers was focused on themes defining the future of workers in the region.

Inputs and discussions on the first day focussed on vulnerabilities faced by workers due to automation, lack of data rights and the advancement of artificial intelligence technology and recommendations to address these vulnerabilities.

The second day of the symposium centred around care work and digital platforms in South Asia and Southeast Asia, gender equality in the Mongolian labour force and adapting labour policy towards fairer treatment of workers in the platform economy. The final session of the symposium aimed to provide a better understanding of the shifting supply chains in the region. The discussions provided important takeaways such as the urgent need for regional economic integration rather than economic nationalism to restore disrupted supply chains and the need to create a social safety net for those disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The symposium also featured the presentation of the report on mapping trade unions’ use of online communication and education tools in the time of the pandemic. It highlighted the unexpected shift that trade unions have had to make to digital platforms to build solidarity and the challenges they face in this transition along with some


The research paper series: Shaping the Future of Workers in Asia

The interest in these topics led us to extend the project to a short spin-off focus series on the future of workers in the platform economies of Asia.

In the first publication about collective bargaining on digital platforms and data stewardship, Astha Kapoor provided a spot-on description of the problems workers in the digital economy face today. Building on this analysis, they also developed models that allow workers to develop structures to increase digital self-determination and support bargaining in a data-driven economy.

In the second study, Ambika Tandon and Aayush Rathi assessed the difficult situation and the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on domestic workers in South and Southeast Asia. In this study of digital platforms for care work in the region, the two authors analyse different types of platforms including their recruitment strategies, relationships with employers and workers, and levels of protection at the workplace. The detailed study reveals that the models are more diverse and complex than the uberization model, which usually dominates discussions on the platform economy. This regional and holistic publication concludes with policy and design recommendations for governments and platforms to support the development of fairer working conditions for care workers.

In the third paper, Mohammad Tareq Hasan shared first-hand experiences of platform economy workers in Bangladesh. Dozens of in-depth interviews with ride-hailing and delivery drivers formed the basis for his analysis of the shortcomings of the current work environment for gig-workers. After comparing Bangladesh’s situation with the legal frameworks in four other South Asian countries, this study concluded with twelve policy recommendations for decision makers to achieve a more just environment for blue-collar workers in the future.

FES thanks all the speakers and authors for their insightful papers and exciting presentations which will help lead the way to a more just future of workers in Asia.

Kai Dittmann is a Senior Programme Manager with the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia, where he coordinates the regional Future of Work project.

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