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2023 Asia-Pacific Members Summit Recap: Challenges and Opportunities in the Region

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Authors: Wenchao Dong

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HR Policy Global’s Asia Pacific Meeting Discussed Key Challenges Facing Employers in the Region 

HR Policy Global successfully hosted its first post-COVID in-person meeting in Singapore last week. The meeting provided an interactive platform for over 50 members to engage, network, and learn from distinguished speakers from member companies and external organizations on key legislative changes across the region, engaging and managing talent amid labor shortage, and building an optimal workforce for the future. Correspondingly, we will host a similar regional meeting for Latin America in May in Orlando, and you can check the agenda here.  

Managing Disruption in the Asia Pacific Region, Learnings from the Covid Era 

During a conversation with Karan Bajwa, Vice President, Asia Pacific Google Cloud, Mr. Bajwa emphasized that a company culture is “the air you breathe in the organization that holds people together” during times of challenges and shared that communicating, sometimes overcommunicating was key to building a culture. Additionally, Leadership should be characterized by authenticity, sharing, and being vulnerable. He highlighted that building advocacy with employees takes time and commitment but drives higher engagement than pushing decisions. He also encouraged the attendees to think about how to motivate and develop employees to turn a job into a life-learning experience.  

Significant Global Events Shaping the World of Work 

Wenchao Dong, Director, Global Affairs and Henry D. Eickelberg Chief Operating Officer at HR Policy Association provided an update around the global including trending topics such as diversity and inclusion, pay transparency, business and human rights in global supply chains, workplace flexibility and employee engagement, gig workers and independent contractors, and shifting expectations on global employers. Ms. Dong emphasized that, accelerated by a digital era, political, societal, and cultural developments can quickly and effectively change the laws, and eventually impose compliance obligations to companies. Mr. Eickelberg shared some key upcoming legislative changes in the US and EU.  

Update on Key Labor Law in India, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, and China

DP Singh, Chief Advisor, India, HR Policy Association acknowledged that the labor Laws in India have been highly regulated and rigid. The new labor reform was intended to simplify the complex system to accelerate the country’s economic growth in the changing world. The impacts will be significant for both employers and employees in terms of minimum wages, pension, employment relations, and labor dispute process. However, the implementation date is still uncertain.  

After providing an overview of Australian labor landscape, Adam D. Salter, Partner-in-Charge, Perth Australia Office, Jones Day, focused on Fair Work Legislation Amendment that was passed last year. The new law introduces new prohibition for a person to sexually harass another person in connection with work, vicarious liability for principals, and broader FWC powers. Additionally, Mr. Salter provided issues update on underpayment and possible solutions.  

Elizabeth Cole, Of Counsel, Singapore Office at Jones Day shared that personnel data protection, increase of retirement age and decrease of birth rate are emerging issues across the region.  She highlighted that employers are likely to see a greater enforcement of cross border data transfer regulations in China during 2023.  

Challenges of an Aging Workforce in Singapore

Edwin Lye, Deputy Executive Director at Singapore National Employers Federation gave a presentation on how a more mature society impact employers and what solutions the Singapore government has been providing.  

He started with sharing that the number of Young to Old Ratio in Singapore has dropped significantly from 6% in 2012 to 3.8% in 2022. An older workforce results in a drop in the GDP and a higher burden for employers as more people will take sick leave. This is not a unique issue in Singapore, China, Korea and Japan are facing the same challenges.  

Singapore government has been working with employers and trade union on this issue and has invested in health care programs and incentive to redesign jobs to fit a more mature workforce. Finally, Mr. Lye encouraged the members to begin to have a reskilling and upskilling conversation with their employees on a continuous basis and ways to leverage experienced workers in their workforce.  

Developing and Communicating the Total Value Proposition

A distinguished panel, joined Suki Tiwana, Vice President, Head of Labor & Colleague Relations, Asia Pacific at American Express, Augustus Azariah, Employee and Labor Relations Leader, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, Kyndryl, Shirley Gu, Senior Total Rewards Leader, GE Aerospace, and Steven Brewin, Head of HR SEA - Managing Director, Accenture, and moderated by Michelle Swinden, Director of Asia Affairs, HRPA, discussed the importance of authenticity and transparency on changes and communicating from employers to employees.  

The panel started by acknowledging the changing expectations from employees and the shifting power between company and employees and emphasized that a well-designed and intended policy could lead to different interpretations if it’s not being effectively communicated and flexibly implemented. The panel also encouraged the audience to think about the cultural differences when a global policy is pushed to different regions.  

Labor Management and Workforce Restructuring – A New Dynamic

Thomas Lan, Asia Pacific Labor Relations Leader, Honeywell, Elizabeth Cole Partner from Jones Day, and Jun Lee Labour Relations Lead, Australia, Boeing shared their observations and challenges during and after COVID in terms of employee structural changes.   

Mr. Lee shared that companies should redesign their talent pipelines to be more attractive for a wider array of applications, particularly female. He used examples such as creating apprentice program focusing on female talent and adjusting the culture to make sure those individuals had the support that they needed. Ms. Cole emphasized that Asia has a stronger push on return to office compared to other regions.  

When asked which countries have increasing challenging labor landscape, the panel shared more attention is needed in Indonesia, Korea, Australia, China, Japan and Vietnam.  

The Evolving Role of the Global and Regional HR Leader

Tara McCormick Director, International Labor Relations Lead at Boeing and Suki Tiwana, Vice President, Head of Labor & Colleague Relations, Asia Pacific, American Express shared their personal experiences on their respective career growth and the evolving nature of their jobs.  

Ms. Tiwana emphasized that companies should work on providing a consistent experience to all colleagues around the world, even though sometimes it’s hard to achieve. Ms. McCormick shared how she successfully connected within her own team as well as external functions as the organization grew exponentially. They both agreed that the success of HR leadership is to focus on building a sustainable and diverse talent pipeline and creating processes.  

Understanding Race and Culture in the Asian Workplace

An excellent presentation about the uniqueness of Diversity and Inclusion work in Asia was provided by Aparna Banerji, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Champion, Consultant & Facilitator and Dimuthu De Silva, Head of Consulting and Training, Asia Pacific from Community Business. Two speakers offered data, research results, different features in various countries and suggestions on how to do a better job based on local culture.  

The Opportunities and Challenges Presented by Hybrid Work

Our last panel was joined by Courtney Dixon, Australian & Asia Pacific Employee Relations & Industrial/Labor Relations Leader from Google, Adam D. Salter from Jones Day, and Alwin Corera Labor Relations Leader from Asia Pacific IBM. The panel had a thorough discussion on the correlation between work location and productivity, performance management and the differences between professional and deskless workers.