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ICT, E&E unions focus on challenges of “Industry 4.0”

18 April, 2016Strong and sustainable industrial policy is required to tackle the challenges of the Industry 4.0, said unions at the IndustriALL Global Union’s steering committee on information and communication technologies (ICT), electrical & electronics on 6-7 April in Tokyo, Japan.

15 unions from France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam represented by 41 participants met for the IndustriALL Global Union steering committee ICT, electrical & electronics in Fuchu City, Tokyo, Japan.

The core issues discussed at the meeting was:

·   Global trends and sectoral activities in the ICT electrical and electronics Industry

·   Organizing and building union power

·   Fighting against precarious work and building a supply chain strategy

·   Creating and developing trade union networks

·   The future manufacturing and promoting sustainable employment

·   Follow-up Action Plan and future activities

In the ICT, electrical and electronics sector, 11 of 20 top multinational companies business is rapidly expanding all over the world, are from countries where the freedom of association (ILO Convention No.87) and the right to collective bargaining (ILO Convention No.98) are not respected. In those companies, the union presence is very low or inexistent, reducing workers’ capacity to confront management. This is one of the reasons why the number of unorganized workers in the sector continues growing all over the world and precarious work expands in the complex supply chains system.

The sector also faces big challenges such as industry reorganization and future manufacturing. Booming mergers and acquisitions and a new industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, in the sector are having a massive impact on the volume of employment and industrial relationship. (See Section 1 IndustriALL Kan Matsuzaki).

Shoji Arino, co-chairperson for the sector insisted:

“We need to strengthen the activities which force the MNCs to ensure trade union rights and decent working condition in the entire supply chain. At the same time, strong and sustainable industrial policy is required to tackle Industry 4.0 challenges. We should promote solidarity activities between developed and developing countries to achieve sustainable employment and environment for the future manufacturing.”

Prihanani Boenadi, the other co-chairperson for the sector states said:

“We are experiencing severe global competition in both the labour market and industrial technology. The global capital in this sector is very flexible to move to the countries promoting lower wages and the deregulation of labour law. We need to build a unified network among ourselves and find solution to reduce the negative impact on these issues.”

A five-year organizing project supported by the European Commission is in its third year. In 2014 and 2015, over 1,200 trade unionists (40 per cent women) from IndustriALL affiliates in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam were trained on organizing. Throughout this project, unions gained their capacity building in organizing, and positive results of accrued membership have been seen especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Philippines.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) is a problematic topic in the sector, especially due to the lack or corporate responsibility of multinational companies throughout the supply chain.  A lymphoma case in Malaysia, likely caused by handling multiple exposures to chemicals, was reported at the meeting. The committee agreed to investigate the case and will promote fundamental rights on OHS, including full access to information on all workplace materials and fair mechanism to protect the workers.

The participants also actively discussed the future impact of the Industry 4.0. New technology, such as digitization of the production with Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, Virtual/Augmented reality, Big Data, Cobots (robots destined cooperate in their work with human beings) are developing and penetrating the workplaces fast.

In Europe, it has been estimated that the technologies could modify the jobs of million workers (possibly up to 54 per cent of the jobs) in the coming years. In the discussions in the meeting it was quite obvious that new high skilled jobs will be created, but low skilled or labour intensive jobs risk losing out quickly. Participants conclude that unions need a strong industrial policy on this matter and to develop a tripartite dialogue with governments and management for a sustainable future with decent work.

Based on the results of the discussion, the steering committee agreed on which points to strengthen in order to follow up the sector Action Plan adopted at the world conference 2015, like the supply chain strategy, trade union network, OHS, and sustainable industrial policy. (see Section 6 IndustriALL Kan Matsuzaki).

The meeting concluded with a plant visit at the Toshiba Corporation Fuchu Complex, producing systems and components for energy, transportation, broadcasting and communication, and water and environment. The delegation met with local union leaders and management. The delegation also visited the Hydrogen Energy Research & Development Centre and learned about the hydrogen fuel cell system with no carbon dioxide emissions, considered as the ultimate clean energy system.