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The future of Industry 4.0 and green technology in the Middle East and North Africa

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17 December, 2021On 9 December, IndustriALL and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) jointly hosted the first regional meeting on Industry 4.0 and green technology for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The meeting had around 50 participants from across the region.

The meeting was introduced by IndustriALL Global Union MENA regional secretary Ahmed Kamel, and Asma Guitouni of FES. Kamel underlined the importance of the discussions and the development of a union approach, given the accelerated pace of industry 4.0, expansion of the global supply chain of various industries in the region and the impact on workers, while Guitouni spoke of the need for unions to critically engage with the issue.

IndustriALL lead on Green Tech, Matthias Hartwich, gave a detailed introduction about the reality of Industry 4.0, situating it in the context of industrial development since the 18th century. In advanced economies, manual jobs are being replaced by robots. This is not a bad thing : dirty, dangerous jobs have been replaced with clean, safe jobs.

This must be the key demand of trade unions: as new technology raises productivity, workers must demand a just share of the reward. We should abandon unpleasant work and demand clean jobs for all, and shared prosperity.

Hartwich noted that the workforce of the future will be more diverse, and that Industry 4.0 offers opportunities for women as manual jobs that required physical strength are replaced with white collar jobs. He also noted that in Europe, talk of Industry 5.0 has already begun. This integrates the technological advances of Industry 4.0 with the social needs of a Just Transition.

Dr Sami Aouadi, an economics professor at El Manar University in Tunis, presented his research on the implications of Industry 4.0 for the MENA region. The research is based on a survey carried out by IndustriALL in the region in which many union leaders participated. He noted the differences between MENA countries and those in Europe, where much of the pioneering work on this field is being done. Manufacturing plays a smaller role in the economies of the region, which rely heavily on oil and gas, and the public sector plays a much bigger role.

He recommended that trade unions educate their members and disseminate information about industry 4.0. They should work with politicians and government to propose legislation that protects jobs as workplaces transition to using more technology.

Participants raised fears that employers would use technology to get rid of workers, because there is a link between digitalization and the expansion of informal work in the region. Existing labour laws are weak and often not implemented, leaving workers vulnerable.

Dr Aouadi explained that there is little social dialogue in the region, and many manufacturing jobs are low-skilled manual assembly jobs of components manufactured elsewhere, making workers particularly vulnerable to replacement by mechanisation.

MENA countries need to implement industrial strategies that develop and retain skills.

The meeting concluded with an action plan to focus on education and sharing experiences of addressing digitalization, launching a dialogue with employers and to expand the scope of the work to sectoral and company networks while integrating the gender aspect.

Photo: © Dana Smillie / World Bank - Ain Beni Mathar Thermo-Solar Power Plant, Morocco.