The ‘future of work’ is a policy concept that explores how various technological, socio-economic, geopolitical, demographic, cultural, and environmental megatrends are developing and interacting to create new types of jobs, industries, labour conditions, and business models. It is not well-defined or critiqued as a definition, and there is no standard approach to what concepts are included (e.g. whether to include climate change), or what timeframe is being discussed by the ‘future’ (Balliester & Elsheikhi, 2018). As it has a forward-looking lens, the literature includes some data projections on future scenarios (e.g. on what percentage of jobs may be lost through automation), and a lot of the literature speculates on the future based on analysis of the current context and recent trends. Thus, the literature base is very broad, is not consistent in its focus or its findings, and is exploratory rather than definitive.
Key ‘future of work’ issues for women in the Indo-Pacific include:
Gender gaps in participation in the labour market in the Indo-Pacific region are expected to worsen or remain unchanged until 2021. Women’s labour force participation tends to be high in low-income countries, lowest in middle-income countries and high again in high-income countries; and cultural, political and socio-economic factors are also central to shaping participation. Current trends reveal participation has remained steady in Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Papua New Guinea, while it has decreased in China and India. This suggests that China and India’s economic growth has not been inclusive. While new digital technologies may be increasing women’s labour participation by making work more flexible, the quality of this work is often low.
Obsolete jobs: The future of work will see new types of jobs partly or entirely displace existing jobs. Global job losses may perpetuate women’s labour disadvantages. Some female-dominated industries in the Indo-Pacific are expected to undergo substantial disruption through automation and digitisation (e.g. office and administrative work, and manufacturing and production). While labour roles for women and men in the Indo-Pacific have changed in recent decades, unequal gender norms persist. Increasing automation is one of the main drivers that is expected to make jobs obsolete. The Indo-Pacific countries expected to undergo the largest trends in automation are: China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, The Philippines, and Malaysia.
New jobs: Automation is expected to lead to benefits e.g. by automating some household work, increasing GDP and aggregate standards of living. Many new knowledge and digital enabled jobs will emerge. Globally, job and wage polarisation may increase in the future. It is clear that labour redeployment and skills training will be some of the ‘most important societal challenges’ with automation
Domestic work: 81% of paid domestic workers in Asia-Pacific are women. While new labour opportunities and markets are displacing old geographic boundaries (national and rural/urban), it is not displacing many gendered power structures.
Quality of work: Many women are likely to continue to experience low quality work in the Indo-Pacific region (low status, insecure, part-time, informal, and with exploitative labour conditions). Jobs and employment opportunities will continue becoming more flexible.
Care and reproductive work: While the recent economic transformation of Asia has shifted work and care regimes significantly for women (e.g. with the growth of employment in call centres and factories; and increased opportunities available through migration); Indo-Pacific women still do, on average, more than twice the unpaid care work of men, with large regional variation. Women are considered the primary source of care in all Asia-Pacific countries, however the extent to which paid non-familial care is used to supplement this varies by country and is dependent on social norms and institutions. The automation of household tasks may help reduce the care burden.
Social security rights and protections are particularly important to women as women shoulder more care responsibilities, have less job security, are paid less, and own fewer assets. However, an expected fall in the labour supply combined with the increased health needs of ageing populations, suggest that social welfare funding will be strained.
Digital technologies: There is widespread acknowledgement that the world is undergoing a digital revolution which is changing the way people, businesses, and countries operate and develop. However, digital gender gaps persist (e.g. in the East Asia and Pacific region, 54% of women do not own a mobile phone). As digital technologies and skills are increasingly important in work tasks and accessing job opportunities, the digital divide is of central importance
Demographics: Childcare and ageing are Asia-Pacific’s most pressing demographic issues. There is an overall preference for familial childcare, with the burden falling on the mother or grandparents. Ageing populations will require more care, while the traditional structures and sources of care are tending to diminish.
Climate and the environment: concerns over, and the negative impacts of, climate change and environmental degradation will continue to shape consumer trends and policy decisions, stimulating job creation in the green economy.