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‘Business as unusual’: How COVID-19 could change the future of work

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Millions of people around the world have been working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic and now experts are asking whether this “business as unusual” could be the future of work, at least for those people whose job doesn’t require them to be tied to a particular location.

UN News spoke to Susan Hayter, a Senior Technical Adviser on the Future of Work at the Geneva-based International Labour Organization, about how COVID-19 could change our working lives.

What are the longer-term effects of the pandemic on the workplace in developed countries, once the immediate crisis is over?
Before the pandemic, there was already a lot of discussion on the implications of technology for the future of work. The message was clear: the future of work is not pre-determined, it is up to us to shape it. 

However, that future has arrived sooner than anticipated as many countries, companies and workers shifted to remote working in order to contain the transmission of COVID-19, dramatically changing how we work. Remote virtual meetings are now commonplace and economic activity has increased on a range of digital platforms. 

As the restrictions are lifted, a question that is on everybody’s mind is whether this ‘business as unusual’ will become the ‘new normal’. A few large companies in developed economies have already said that what has been a large and unplanned pilot – remote teleworking – will become the standard way of organizing work. Employees need not commute to work again, unless they choose to do so.  

Is this a good thing?

This may indeed be cause to celebrate, for people and the planet. But the idea of an end to “The Office” is certainly overblown. The ILO estimates that in high-income countries 27 per cent of workers could work remotely from home. This does not mean that they will continue to work remotely. The question is how we can adapt work practices and reap the benefits of this experience with remote working – for employers and workers – while not losing the social and economic value of work as a place.   

In celebrating the innovations in work organization that have supported business continuity during the health crisis, we cannot forget that many will have lost their jobs or gone out of business as the pandemic has brought some industries to a standstill. For those returning to their place of work, the quality of work will be a key issue, in particular safe and healthy workplaces. 

What needs to happen next?

The degree of workers’ trust in the measures taken by employers to make workplaces safe, will no doubt have an impact on the return to work. Engagement with trade union representatives, where these exist, is a must. 

Everything from protocols for social distancing, monitoring and testing, and the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) need to be discussed to make this work. 

For workers in the gig economy, such as food delivery and ride-hailing workers, work is not a place, but an activity performed for an income. The pandemic has revealed the false choice between flexibility and income security. These workers may have no or inadequate access to sick leave and unemployment-insurance benefits. We need to tap into the brave new world to ensure that their work is performed under conditions that are safe. 

How different do you expect the workplace in developing countries to look?

The ILO estimates a 60 per cent decline in the earnings of the almost 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy in the first month of the crisis.  These workers are simply not able to work remotely and face the impossible choice of risking life or livelihood. Some countries have adopted measures to shore up this essential income while also ensuring adequate hygiene and PPE for employees and customers, informal enterprises and workers. 

As companies begin to evaluate the effectiveness of the shift to remote work and their ability to tackle data security concerns, new opportunities may open up in services for developing countries with the necessary infrastructure. 

However, these off-shoring opportunities in activities such as software development and engineering to financial services, may be accompanied by the reshoring in of other jobs as companies seek to improve inventory management and the predictability of supply chains. 

This will have longer-term effects on employment in developing and emerging economies. The challenge is that while it will take time for new service sectors to mature, the negative impact of rising unemployment will be felt immediately. Inequalities in digital readiness may further inhibit countries from seizing these opportunities. 

What are the benefits and drawbacks of remote work?

The shift to remote work has enabled many companies to continue to operate and ensure the health and safety of their employees. Those able to make the transition to remote work during the health crisis have had the opportunity to share meals with their families. Work has become human-centred to accommodate homeschooling and child and elder care.  

Yet, the lines between working time and private time have become blurred for these individuals, causing an increase in stress and exposure to mental health risks

In the face of a dramatic economic downturn caused by the pandemic and surging unemployment figures, there are opportunities to leverage these changes in work organization to design new job-sharing schemes that allow for flexibility and save jobs. This may mean shorter work weeks or work-sharing arrangements to avoid furloughs in lean times, while reshaping working time arrangements to achieve better work-life balance in the longer-term.

The digital transformation of work and possibility to engage in remote work has also been accompanied by other benefits. It has presented possibilities for older, more experienced workers to prolong their working life on their terms and provided work opportunities for those in rural communities. However, for many others, it has compounded a sense of isolation and a loss of identity and purpose. The social value of work and the dignity and belonging we derive from it cannot be replaced by virtual rooms, no matter how casual our attire while we occupy them. 

To what extent will the pandemic entrench rising inequality?

 While the pandemic may represent a tipping point for the digital transformation of the workplace, it has also revealed deep fault lines. It is those in the upper income brackets who are the most likely to choose to work remotely, whereas those in the lowest have no choice; they will have to commute and are more likely to be time-poor as a result. 

Looking to the future, as digital and online work becomes the new normal, the demand for skilled workers is likely to rise along with their wages. The contributions of care-workers and other workers (e.g. teachers and staff in grocery stores) will be more highly valued than before. Yet, many low-paid workers whose wages have been stagnating in the face of declining union power and a shifting employment relationship are likely to see their incomes eroded even further as the ranks of the unemployed increase. 

Historically, economic shocks, pandemics and wars have exacerbated inequality. The remaining question is whether this one will be a tectonic shift with rising political and social instability, or a shock that leads us to reinforce the foundations of just societies and the principles of solidarity and democratic decision-making that move societies, labour markets and workplaces in the direction of equality. 

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Guangdong special economic zones at China

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Guangdong Province in southern China is distinguished by the economic development. The sign been approached by “Made In Guangdong” is becoming so famous globally, besides the Guangdong industries and its unique culture.

  Guangdong represents one of the most important provinces of China for a number of political, economic, social and natural reasons. Indications of the success of the openness experiment pursued by China since the late seventies of the last century are evident in it.

Guangdong special economic zones have made great achievements. As the province with the largest economic output in China, south China’s Guangdong Province has achieved tremendous economic development in the past 40 years, thanks to the establishment of special economic zones.

 According to my information, the Guangdong region has established the “Zhuhai Doumen” intelligent manufacturing economic development zone recently, after the Guangdong Provincial Government officially approved the establishment of the “Zhuhai Doumen intelligent manufacturing economic development zone”, which will implement the existing provincial-level economic development zone policy.  It is the third regional economic development zone in “Zhuhai” after “Foshan Industrial Park and Liangang Industrial Zone”.

 Guangdong Province is an economic powerhouse in southern China, and the province will promote high-quality development this year by fostering new engines of growth and strengthening cooperation and communication in the regions of (Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay) to deepen reform and opening up.

 Guangdong Province, a major part of China’s foreign trade and industrial hub, accounts for about one-tenth of China’s GDP and is the largest of all Chinese provinces.

 Guangdong Province pays close attention to the progress of China’s modernization and the overall picture of reform and opening-up and major national strategic planning. It firmly attaches importance to the reform and opening-up policy by strengthening cooperation between the province and the “Hong Kong and Macao” regions, aligning the development of Guangdong with the “Northern Metropolis” plan of Hong Kong and the economic diversification strategy of Macao, implementing the “Greater Bay Area Connection” project in a more in-depth way, and working with “Hong Kong and Macao” together to build a world-class bay area, injecting vigor and strong impetus into its modernization efforts”.

 It Is remarkable that most of the cities of Guangdong Province are crowded with visitors from all over the world, especially Arabs and Africans, who come to them for the purpose of trade and search for investment. The province is considered one of the regions characterized by the diversity of its industries, quality and attractive prices, as well as commercial activities in various fields.

 It Is also distinguished by the beauty and sophistication of its buildings, which embody the aesthetics of modern Chinese architecture, as well as the spread of green spaces and vibrant squares throughout the day. It is also distinguished in terms of weather, with its atmosphere that resembles the tropical atmosphere with heavy rain, and the various cities of Guangdong Province are also characterized by easy access to it from different parts of the world throughout the day, as well as ease of movement between its various cities, thanks to the presence of an infrastructure that makes most of the cities of the province at the forefront of attractive cities for investment globally.

  Due to the existence of the commercial ports, Guangdong has a long experience in terms of commercial exchanges regionally and globally.

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The Theatrics of the US Debt Ceiling: Fiscal Austerity or Political Brinkmanship?

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It amazes me sometimes how pointless some discussions are to begin with, yet the hype they garner is just outrageous compared to relatively pressing issues in the mainstream spotlight. I am no Democrat supporter or even a backer of Mr. Biden – as my columns would effectively relay. But I am also no fan of idiocy when I see it (also apparent in my writings). And the ongoing tensions lacing the US polity, unfortunately, qualify that criterion by a long shot. While the debate around the debt limit is neither novel nor unprecedented, the preachy statements posited in the US Congress to justify the GOP posturing are downright ridiculous. But even if we don ignorance and accept their premise as is, I fail to see any alternative path toward economic balance and prosperity – assuming that is actually the end goal of the Republican lawmakers.

Before even delving into the nitty-gritty of the debt ceiling saga, let’s get some ambiguities clear and out of the way. The debt limit is a statutory cap on the total amount of money the US federal government is authorized to borrow. Currently, that amount stands at $31.4 trillion – already reached about two weeks ago. However, breaching that limit is well-nigh avertable: All the US Congress needs to do is raise that limit higher, and the chaos would disappear overnight. No risking the smooth functioning of the money markets, no pressure on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, and no uncertainty while the world grapples with demons on geopolitical and economic fronts. But what about fiscal responsibility? Since 2001, the United States has consistently rolled around with budget deficits year after year and filled the gap with excessive borrowing to meet its financial obligations. In that period, the US has accreted about $20 trillion in national debt; debt held by the public as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has roughly tripled from 32% to 94%. Even for an economy as omnipotent as the United States, that’s prohibitive. But we need a thorough comparison to realize the underlying trends – both on the macroeconomic and political scale.

The US last enjoyed a fiscal surplus during the presidency of a Republican. Mr. George W. Bush. But you rarely witness a vociferous detour around that nook of history by any GOP members. It is perhaps because he squandered that surplus on tax cuts for the wealthy. Or on the invasion of Iraq. While one led to more inequity in an already lopsided social demography, the latter ushered those resources to decimate a foreign land on bogus pretenses. Another manifestation of the ‘Trickle-Down economic principle (apparently notorious for the Conservative fractions on both sides of the Atlantic) was during the Trump tenure. Mr. Donald Trump ran through another profligate tax-cutting regime to do good for the US economy. But ironically, the debt ceiling got raised three times during his own term, sans the drama we witness whenever the Republican Party holds either of the chambers of the US Congress but not the presidency. At this point, some people won’t need any more evidence to gauge the true intentions of the right-wing bloc baying for fiscal austerity. But let us sieve through the Democratic rule for a non-partisan outlook.

During the past two decades, only two episodes stand out apropos of record debt as a function of the US economy: the Great Recession 2007-09 and the Covid-19 pandemic. While I admit Mr. Biden’s nearly $2 trillion worth of American Rescue Plan helped (in large part) fuel the current inflation, it also helped avoid a devastating recession and jumpstart a speedy recovery. It kept businesses running, people employed, and spending buoyed. Notwithstanding that the unemployment rate in America is still at a multi-decade low, the economy could very well trip into another recession as the Fed moves aggressively to blunt the pain of price increases. But insofar as projections go, it appears that the American economy would brush past a prolonged recession and manage a relatively softer landing. According to recent estimates, annualized inflation has slowed consistently for the past six months, dipping to 6.5% from a summer peak of 9%. While the Republicans tried effortlessly to channel their narrative around the economy, their embarrassing rout during the Midterm elections was a testament to the facetious nature of their claims. 

Then there was the infamous standoff in 2011. We all know how the markets got rattled; borrowing costs spiked; and why the S&P downgraded the credit rating of US debt, even though we didn’t actually breach the limit. But we rarely ask: Why did the Obama administration end up with a debt of such mammoth magnitude? The answer is obvious. The Great Recession dried up tax receipts as the economy plunged into turmoil; the social safety net programs swelled, especially as spending on unemployment benefits soared. In 2008, the federal budget deficit stood at $458.6 billion, which staggered to $1.4 trillion in the subsequent year. Despite that, it took roughly eight years for unemployment to return to normality. Had the government raised taxes or cut spending drastically, the US would have witnessed something like Great Britain.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, while America sustained spending to bolster the economy via borrowing, the Tory-led British government embarked on an austerity drive: Annual expenditure, as a percentage of GDP, was cut from 46% to 36%; spending on health infrastructure dragged down by half over the last decade. In hindsight, the difference is remarkable. While American wages have just stagnated over the course of the past 15 years, real wages in Britain have declined over the same period. While the US still contends with a rousing China for global economic superiority, Britain got recently supplanted by India (its former colony) as the fifth-largest economy in the world. The story couldn’t be any more lucid. 

Ultimately, the GOP political mumble of “adding guardrails” and “fiscal reforms” to bend the debt curve might be politically splendid, but to an economic mind, it is frankly garbage! And I have no doubt that regardless of cogent reasoning, the hardline Republicans would hold the government paralyzed – as was evident when they scrapped concessions from Mr. McCarthy in barter for his post as the House speaker. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that regardless of your disposition – Democrat or Republican, pro-spending or pro-austerity – the debt ceiling is, as aptly verbalized by Senator Ron Wyden, “not about adding new spending,” but “it’s about paying debts that the government [already] owes – debts that were incurred under presidents of both parties.”

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The Prolongation of BRICS: Impact on International World Order and Global Economy

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BRIC, coined by an economist Jim O’Neil in 2001 as an acronym for the four countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa joined in 2010 and this organization turned into BRICS. The prime goal of BRICS was to the formation of the diplomatic and economic assistance framework, and the challenges to western influence in the global economic order. The Western cordially welcomed BRICS with the earnestness. The BRICS, five major emerging economies, together represent about 26% of the world’s geographic area, inhabitant of 2.88 Billion people which is about 42% of the world’s population and accounted for a quarter of the global GDP. The enlargement of BRICS was talked on June, 2022 at the groups summit which took place in Beijing. The 2023 summit will take place in South Africa. 

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov stated that Algeria, Argentina and Iran have already applied for joining in BRICS. In contrast, Saudi Arabia, Turkey , Egypt have declared their intense interest for becoming the member of BRICS and they are already engaged in the membership process. Now the question is what outcomes or impacts may be happened in the International world order and global economy in order to the expanding of BRICS?

Russia is the second largest producer of crude oil among OPEC+ members. Russia is a self-contained of its oil production. Because of Russia-Ukraine War, America and its European allies imposed sanctions on Russia and some European countries minimized their dependency on Russian oil. China imports its oil from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq, Oman, Brazil and Kuwait. China increases at 21% its imports crude oil from Russia in 2022. The  member of OPEC+ decided to reduced their oil production by 2Million barrels per day two month before and it will continue in the end of 2023. The U.S.A and other western countries aggravated. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest crude oil exporters, 11% of the world’s petroleum liquid production and has 15% of the world’s oil reserves. Recently it has declared that it will take initiatives to boost its oil production from 10 to 13 Million barrels per day. Egypt is a prominent petroleum producer and exporter. Egypt exports cotton and textiles, raw materials, chemical products and petroleum products. Egypt is a dialogue partner to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Iran is the world’s largest hydrocarbon Reserves in the world. Western world impose sanctions again and again. Iran is also the member of OPEC+ and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Algeria, 10th largest natural gas reserver and 6th largest gas exporter. It is also a member of OPEC+. Turkey exports motor vehicles and their parts, gold and petroleum oil. It is the world’s 7th exporters of cotton. Argentina is a major exporter of wheat and corn. 

If Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Argentina, Turkey become the member of BRICS, it will enormous impact on the World order and global economy. 

1. The sphere of influence of the oil producer countries will be strengthen. The structure of oil market in the global economy will be changed. 

2. Lula da Silva, President of Brazil suggested to make a common currency for the BRICS countries. If it takes place, a more stable currency will be created. 

3. As China, Russia, Iran have a rivalry with the U.S.A, they will make more alliances to combat the U.S.A influence in the world. 

4. As the U.S dollar is the world’s dominant currency in the global financial and monetary system, and it is the Centre of U.S.A global leadership, the monopolistic influence of Dollar will be undermined. If BRICS countries will reach an agreement to continue their trade through a common currency, De-dollarization will be accelerated. 

5. As Turkey, Algeria, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others have already shown their interest to join BRICS, it will accelerate to boost BRICS global influence. Russia, China will lead collectively in the world order. 

6. Most of the countries reserve crisis will be resolved. 

7. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Brazil will be able to export their oil collectively to China, India, Egypt and Turkey. China is Saudi Arabia’s biggest trading partner with more than $50 Billion. 

8. The investment of China and Russia in African continent will be extended. China is the largest trading partner of South Africa. South Africa is more advanced than any other countries of Africa because of its natural wealth and location. 

9. De-Dollarization will deteriorate the U.S.A capability to alter the behavior its opponents. If BRICS continuously expand, China will easily promote its agenda and grand strategy in the world. 

10. According to World Bank, BRICS grew at an average of 6.26 percent in 2021. On the contrary, G7 grew at 5.15%. If BRICS continues to attract other countries to join, it will emerge as a powerful force of the global leadership. The GDP is hoped to double to 50% of global GDP by 2030.

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