Technology – enabler or disabler of labour?

The technological age has impacted one and all, but for our workers and businesses, has it truly been a benefit?

One scene in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to mind when I think of this technological revolution. The one where Charlie’s father lost his job (screwing caps onto toothpaste tubes) to machines that can do his job better and faster. Replaced by technology, Charlie’s dad then had a new job – that of repairing the very machines that replaced him.

When used efficiently, technology can help improve productivity and hence, output. Granted, the original costs to make such capital investments are high, but with the Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme (PIC), companies are incentivised to drive up productivity to make up for the tightening of labour taps.

The productivity improvement activities covered under PIC are:

1. Acquisition or leasing of PIC Information Technology (IT) and Automation Equipment

2. Training of employees

3. Acquisition and in-licensing of Intellectual Property Rights

4. Registration of patents, trademarks, designs and plant varieties

5. Research and development activities

6. Design projects approved by DesignSingapore Council

By harnessing the potential of technology, hopefully we can make ‘cheaper, better, faster’ a dream come true. No la, not workers, but goods and services. To survive on the global arena is to remain competitive, and go beyond being mediocre. Stressful, it may seem, but well, it’s a greeting from reality that every day, boundaries are being transcended and improvements are being made. It is the survival of the fittest. Not all will survive, but support is given to ensure that companies are not disadvantaged in this competitive race. That being said, workers should be credited when they help increase the productivity of the company. Workers should be given a stake in the company’s progress and given a sense of ownership over the company’s success.

Through the Wage Credit Scheme, companies are encouraged to reward workers for contributing to productivity gains, which is financially supported by the government. We seek to value every worker, and their contributions to the workforce. Each worker has a unique role to play in our pursuit for economic development. The value of a worker should not be measured by their wages, but rather also by other soft factors such as a sense of fulfilment. Our workers are NOT economic units, they are our people, they make up the society that we seek to protect and progress as one.

There is more reason for having a job than paying a mortgage or making ends meet.

Granted, the benefits of the use of technology is not homogenous across all sectors, and it might become a cause for concern should our country become overly mechanized. There have been whispers about having more vending machines around to reduce the amount of manpower needed to man stalls. These whispers are becoming louder as Singaporeans start feeling the crunch of a more densely populated Singapore. Indeed, these vending machines may be able to replace some in the service sector and may prove to be even more productive, but are we forgoing something? The human touch will be lost through the overreliance of machinery especially in the service industry. Through recent studies, we are already labeled as an emotionless society. Can we really afford to introduce more nuclei to enable us to be more emotionless?

Look how far we have come, and look into the future, what do you see?

I see a more productive labor force.

I see workers having a greater stake in their company’s progress.

I see Singapore, a competitive global contestant on international platforms.

I see workers and machines standing side by side, complementing each other, enhancing productivity and bringing out the best in each other.

I see Singaporeans having a greater sense of accomplishment over their work, and taking pride in whatever they do.

 

As thoughts of reaching to the sky are carried on a dream, with hearts and minds united, our dreams we will achieve! Our future is an open book, a land of destiny.

– What do you see? (NDP 2009 theme song)

 

About the author

Justina Lee

Justina Lee speaks in Yoda: “No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”

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