What Are the Biggest Challenges Faced by Blue-Collar Workers in Asia?
With two-thirds of Singaporeans projected to hold white-collar jobs by 2030, the blue-collar career pathway is becoming increasingly unattractive to youths. There is a definite stigma attached to blue-collar work, as pay is often lower than in white-collar jobs, and physical labour is thought of as unpleasant. But demand for cleaners and other blue-collar workers has been increasing over the years. In fact, there are increasing skills shortages in manufacturing and other areas that could lead to massive revenue losses by 2030.
Despite this apparent need for skilled blue-collar workers, they are often treated unfairly and hampered by work-related issues. Here are five of the biggest challenges they face:
Job Search & Hiring Processes
While there are plenty of job boards and forums speeding up hiring processes for white-collar workers, these boards often require jobseekers to upload resumés in Word or PDF format, which many blue-collar workers are unable to do as they do not own computers. Thus, blue-collar workers are still heavily reliant on word of mouth, classifieds advertisements or agencies to find potential employers and get hired. This process is laborious and longwinded, often taking weeks or months. This results in frictional unemployment, as workers are left with large gaps between jobs and a huge loss of income. Employment agencies also charge foreign workers extortionate fees for cross-border employment, and yet these workers still earn a meagre wage.
Many blue-collar workers may only secure part-time employment when they are available for full-time work and are left idle the rest of the time. Some employers may offer them zero-hour contracts, where they are not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, and therefore there is no guarantee of work. Joining an employment agency does not guarantee consistent work for many labourers, so they may have to rely on multiple agencies- having to painstakingly fill-out paperwork for each of them.
Blue-collar workers may also be underemployed in the sense that their skills are not fully utilised; they may only be able to find lower paid unskilled labour jobs when they possess the skills to take on higher paid work. Both of these forms of underemployment lead to a loss of potential income and low job satisfaction.
While some blue-collar workers are underemployed, some who have inflexible schedules and are only able to work part-time may struggle to find appropriate jobs. Fixed working hours are an issue for workers who have other commitments, such as those who have children or sick relatives to care for. These workers still need the extra income from a job to support themselves, but employers may not be accommodating.
Many blue-collar workers are living hand to mouth. They are completely dependent on their wages to pay their bills and to feed their families as they often do not earn enough to save, so any loss of income could have devastating consequences for their livelihoods. Especially in Singapore, where blue-collar wages are low in comparison to the high living costs, blue-collar workers are often paid unfairly for the work they do. Agencies that take a cut from their wages are also adding to this problem. As many workers may be desperate for jobs, they tend to put up with unfair treatment and inferior wages, as asking for more could lead to them losing their jobs.
As firms and industries around the world are automating processes and becoming more efficient, there is a growing fear that manual labourers will be replaced by machines and face increasing unemployment. This has already been seen in the manufacturing industry, where many workers have been made redundant over the years as a result of new technology.
Despite these fears, widespread unemployment resulting from new technology is yet to materialise. Although technology may be disruptive to jobs in the short term, the majority of economists have held the view that this is only a temporary phase of maladjustment. Technological innovation is not a new development in the 21st Century- it has been prevalent throughout human history. When ATMs became widespread in the ’70s, bank tellers feared that their jobs were on the line. In reality, ATMs reduced the operational costs of bank branches, so while the number of bank tellers per branch decreased, banks could afford to open more branches and employ more tellers. Thus far, automation has been favourable to businesses and employees alike, creating opportunities to scale up. Even today, machines are a far cry from replicating human experience and intuition in blue-collar industries such as cleaning, as they lack tacit knowledge and judgment. Instead, technology can ease up the workloads of employees, so that they can focus on tasks that machines cannot do.