Many countries in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region are not placing enough emphasis on labour market issues as they prepare for the impact of ground-breaking trends on work in the future, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

It identified these “mega trends” as technological changes that are reshaping how and where people work; demographic changes arising from higher life expectancies coupled with lower mortality and reproduction rates; and environmental and climate change.

The ILO report released this month examined the policy responses to these trends in the 10 Asean countries and six other nations in the APAC region – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

Although it acknowledged that the region is “by no means homogeneous on the socioeconomic front”, it stated that one common feature is that labour market issues are treated as an “afterthought” in most of the policy documents reviewed.

This is especially so in policies linked to what is known as Industry 4.0 – the way smart tech is shaping how we work and live – where economic interests often trump social considerations, said ILO assistant director-general and regional director for Asia and the Pacific Tomoko Nishimoto.

“Likewise, in policies and plans on ageing, many countries now promote the extension of working years without sufficient forethought on the possible consequences to older workers and the families that support them.

“Meanwhile, strategies to encourage a greener economy tend to miss opportunities to include ‘just transition’ measures that would help address the social impact of greening.”

The report noted that if reskilling is to be part of a national push to increase capabilities for higher-tech jobs, workers should be involved in dialogue related to company restructuring and job changes so that they have time to prepare. Employers should also invest in workplace learning so that they can reskill existing workers instead of letting them go and recruiting new ones.

There should be more flexibility when it comes to encouraging elderly workers to remain in the workforce, such as part-time options, said the report.

Some countries – Cambodia, Australia, China and Thailand – even have favourable loans for elderly people to start businesses.

Almost all the 16 nations studied acknowledge that the green sector is an important source of potential job creation, such as in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015. But only some, like New Zealand and the Philippines, have an explicit focus on ensuring environmental sustainability is linked to creating decent work and quality jobs.