COVID-19 hastens automation, new APEC report finds
26 Jun 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the adoption of automation by firms and organisations across the region, according to a new policy brief by the APEC Policy Support Unit and The Asia Foundation titled “COVID-19, 4IR and the future of work.”
Constraints to labour supply caused by movement restrictions, both domestically and globally, as well as the withdrawal of workers, who are elderly or have re-existing conditions, are some of the push factors for firms to explore or even deploy automation in their operations.
A variety of stimulus and relief measures launched by governments to cushion the pandemic, such as lower interest rates and subsidies for going digital, may also provide incentives for more firms to automate business processes, APEC Policy Support Unit said in a statement here, today.
The unintended impact of this scenario would be the risk of certain jobs being eliminated, which would contribute to creating further spikes in unemployment rates around the region.
The report calls on APEC policymakers to conduct a thorough risk assessment of jobs that may be impacted or eliminated by automation to understand the challenges faced by workers and the unforeseen impacts of crisis-response policies.
“It is impossible for us to talk about growth when people are struggling to secure their livelihoods,” Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, executive director of the APEC Secretariat commented.
“We have been mandated by ministers to prioritise the return of workers to employment. Our responsibility is to ensure that we support people at risk with greater inclusive policy instruments,” she said.
Policymakers are advised to strengthen and expand social protection policies to protect workers and provide income security. APEC will also need to collaborate closely with the private sector to monitor automation trends and support the need for workforce upskilling and retraining.
Malaysia is the host for APEC this year. This is the second time Malaysia is hosting APEC since 1998. The APEC Economic Leaders Meeting is scheduled in November but from now all meetings are conducted virtually due to travel restrictions amid the pandemic.
APEC is an inter-governmental forum comprising 21 economies that promote free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The APEC region is an economic juggernaut, nearly tripling the size of its economy since the forum’s launch in 1989.
The economies make up 40 per cent of the world’s population, 60 per cent of its gross domestic product and 50 per cent of the total trade, according to the meeting organisers.