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4th revolution not science fiction - union leader

Jan 17 2016 21:00
Carin Smith

Cape Town - It is time for the world of "digital capitalism" to take the impact on jobs and social justice seriously, Philip Jennings, UNI Global Union’s general secretary, told Fin24 on Friday.

This is the clear message he will bring at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this week.

UNI Global Union is a global trade union for the service sectors and represents 20 million workers from 900 trade unions in 150 countries around the world.

In his view it is time for big business to work towards creating a more responsible world and allow a “seat at the table” for working people.

"Since the new year unfolded we have seen significant financial volatility and continuing concerns about emerging markets. It appears the economic motor of emerging markets, which seemed to pull the global economy through, is beginning to suffer new stresses," said Jennings.  

The WEF talks about the so-called fourth industrial revolution taking place in the wake of the global financial crisis form which the global economy has not fully recovered.

This concept relates to the continued exponential rise of computing capacity and the impact it will have on the work place and the labour market.

"This will lead to a transformation in the methods of production and the provision of services," Jennings explained.
 
"We are moving into the realm of the intelligent machine and within the next 30 years we will see the rise of the robots not just impacting production lines, but also professions and elsewhere."

He said the consequences are disruptions, dislocations and volatility in terms of people on all levels in relation to government, business and the labour market.

No science fiction

Jennings pointed out that the WEF says this revolution must be taken seriously – it is not science fiction.

"It is happening and will happen and will ask from business to address methods of work organisation, which will impact the job markets in terms of displacements and the ability of working people to enjoy the basics of life," said Jennings.

Whereas previous industrial revolutions brought a sense of increased economic prosperity, wealth and jobs, the fourth revolution brings a hollowing out of the labour market due to technology substituting workers.

"The big middle class, which is the economic driving force for our communities, is under threat. There will be a kind of new economy tech elite with the cognitive, creative and IT skills to make it," explained Jennings.

"We are beginning to see the polarisation of the work place and the fragmentation of work. The model of full-time work is being scattered and within that fragmentation you can have jobs which can be made into individual tasks, leading to an on-demand and sharing economy." A concept like Uber is an example of this, he said.

Analysts suggest predict that productivity will increase, but this will not be seen in the wages for workers.

"So, the concern is about whether we will be able to generate sufficient numbers of jobs to enable people to earn enough to thrive. We cannot just leave this to the IT world and the markets and cannot just have faith that trickle-down will happen," cautioned Jennings.

"We are faced with a global jobs gap. Over the next 15 years the world has to create 600 million jobs just to keep the current levels of labour force participation.

Lack of trust

UNI Global Union surveys show concerns about a profound lack of trust in the political elite and a growing sense that the economy is not working for the people, but for the elite 1%. This leads to a rise of populism and a rise of people at the extremes.
 
It is in this context that Jennings calls for collaboration between the inter-dependent "world of work" and "world of capital".

"We must think how the business community can contribute to inclusive growth and to help ensure people are constantly given the ability to adapt and mitigate the consequences of the fourth revolution," said Jennings.

"We have to get investment working, including public sector investment in infrastructure for massive human needs which are not met. This, as well as climate change, can bring job opportunities, but the standard 'short termism' business model of revenues and quarterly reports won't work anymore."

In his view the issue of employment must remain priority number one. The question of the distribution of the benefits of the new revolution is also important.

"We have to be clear that we need to adapt, mitigate and have a just transition through active policy and labour market changes. Together we can ensure some sense of justice and fairness in work place. The need and relevance is there," he concluded.

labour  |  unions  |  tech

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