Evolution of labour swirling inside ASEAN

July 31, 2020 | 15:00
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Global labour markets are facing more uncertainties than ever as the world is confronting a devastating health crisis, just before technological advances began to potentially threaten labourers. To alleviate some of the damage, ASEAN countries have realised the demand for higher quality workers, and are encouraging skilled labour mobility to address shortages, promote knowledge transfer, and boost productivity.
1502p4 evolution of labour swirling inside asean
The latest ASEAN Summit looked at the new face of human resources, Photo: VNA

Working abroad to the majority of Vietnamese has long meant “labour export”, which often refers to the movement of low-skilled workers, most coming from rural areas and working in certain sectors such as manufacturing, construction, fishing, agriculture, housekeeping, and other services.

Last year, Vietnam sent over 150,000 of its people to work in more than 40 countries and territories – mainly concentrating in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, China, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia – and across more than 30 sectors, according to the Department of Overseas Labour under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs.

However, the type of labour mobility has changed significantly compared to the recent free migration of workers around Southeast Asia.

Graduating from a university in Vietnam, 28-year-old Hoang Minh Tai had been working in the Czech Republic and Germany before moving to his company’s headquarters in Malaysia. Six months later, he was transferred to Singapore.

Tai said that the ASEAN is a labour market with potential for young people not only in Vietnam but also other countries in the region, and the wave of young workforce looking for jobs in Southeast Asia in recent years is no longer simply the story of labour exporting.

“Jobs in Southeast Asia are no longer manual or simple labour-import vacancies, but now require personnel with skills, knowledge, experience, and qualifications,” Tai stated. “For example, those can be jobs in IT, customer service, research, processing, or data analysis.”

The advent of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) five years ago not only facilitated a more integrated regional economy, but also promoted free movement of highly-skilled professionals and labour.

The Triangle in ASEAN Programme has for a decade delivered technical assistance and support with the overall goal of maximising the contribution of labour migration to equitable, inclusive, and stable growth in the region. The programme, from the International Labour Organization, has recognised that labour migration is an emerging element among the bloc’s labour markets while intra-ASEAN migration has also been increasing.

Provisions for skilled labour movement within the ASEAN principally revolve around Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) which allow for a worker’s skills, experience, and accreditations to be recognised across the region, permitting them to work outside their home country.

The ASEAN currently has MRAs in place for six sectors and framework agreements in place for two more – in engineering, nursing, architecture, medicine, dentistry, tourism, surveying, and accountancy.

In particular, moves are made easier for high-quality workforce that are experts and skilled workers, or have a university degree or higher level of education, as well as being fluent in other languages.

According to a regional report by recruitment networker JobStreet, in the first six months of 2019, the amount of highly-skilled Vietnamese getting a job in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia increased respectively by 11 per cent, 38 per cent, and 8 per cent.

While Vietnamese are increasingly wishing to thrive abroad, they are facing no fewer challenges than the job opportunities out there.

Vietnam ranks third in the ASEAN in terms of labour force, but the proportion of well-trained workers with diplomas and certificates accounts for only 22.37 per cent. As such, young Vietnamese may face obstacles when heading to Singapore as the government has issued abundant policies to protect their citizens, along with strict working skill requirements. Therefore, with a wider and more diverse labour market, Thailand has become an attractive destination for jobseekers.

In addition, the invasion of high technology and most recently the unemployment wave caused by COVID-19 has forced countries to come up with stricter and more comprehensive labour training plans.

In the advent of Industry 4.0 and also the coronavirus pandemic, human resources development is becoming more important than ever.

To enhance competitiveness of the ASEAN compared with elsewhere, high-quality human resources are a decisive factor, according to Deputy Minister of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs Le Quan. ASEAN countries are very much focusing heavily on the keys of human resources development, especially in IT and other areas in which the bloc boasts decent capacity and human resources.

In addition, the “ASEAN Declaration on Human Resources Development for the Changing World of Work” presented at the 36th ASEAN Summit has also received great attention from members. Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand have introduced a number of proposals and plans to develop skilled human resources to meet the requirements of investors, attracting new waves of foreign investment and creating a workforce that meets domestic, regional, and also global needs.

“We encourage free movement of labour and will continue supporting the ASEAN and removing restrictions, thereby promoting free labour migration,” said Mark Alan Brown, head of the International Organization for Migration office in Ho Chi Minh City. “The ASEAN itself is also improving and encouraging free labour movement which is one of the goals of the AEC, not only stopping at the current eight occupations.”

By Mai Anh

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