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Why Industry 4.0 is both a social and technological revolution

20 January, 2016As world leaders convene in Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), this year’s theme on the fourth industrial revolution is set to have a major impact on IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliates around the world. 

Industry 4.0 is both a social and a technological revolution. Technological changes in the workplace have deep social implications, as temporary and casual work risks to spread further, unemployment runs high, wages are low and workers’ rights attacked. These pressures can lead to social unrest and even to radicalization, if those left without work feel abandoned by political decision-makers. Also the refugee crisis can deteriorate as people without hope hit the road in search of a better life.

“Industrial change must not come at the cost of social justice. Although wealth is being created and concentrated at a record pace, the number of jobs created per unit of wealth accumulated has dropped catastrophically,” says IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina.

This week Oxfam released a new report revealing that just 62 people own as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire world population, while the richest 1 per cent own more than the other 99 per cent combined.

“Corporations and their increasing capital have a responsibility to the communities they serve, not least to avoid a breakdown in society and poverty, but because they’ll be left with no markets and no customers,” adds Raina who is taking part in WEF debates at Davos.

Further research released by the ITUC on Monday reveals a hidden workforce of 116 million people toiling in the supply chains of 50 of the world’s top companies.

Only 6 per cent of people making products for these companies, which have a combined revenue of US$3.4 trillion, are employed directly.  Millions of workers in their global supply chains are suffering low wages, precarious work, unsafe working conditions and poor labour rights.

A Just Transition

IndustriALL, together with other global unions, will be at Davos arguing for a Just Transition for workers affected by both the technological transformation of industry and global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“We need a fair transition to a low-carbon economy that respects and protects present-day workers and their communities, while creating new decent work in sustainable industries,” says Raina.

Workers in emerging and developing economies will face the greatest challenge as the number of jobless is expected to rise by 4.8 million over the next two years according to a report from the International Labour Organization - The World Employment Social Outlook 2016.

The new workplace

Industry 4.0 creates new meanings for the concepts of work, workplace, health and safety, availability and flexibility.  While many traditional workplaces will disappear, new ones will be created but the overall affect on jobs is not clear.

What is clear is that workers must be given new skills to master technological developments, or risk being left behind. 

“As the transformation happens, IndustriALL’s goal remains the same – to build strong, sustainable industrial bases with good quality jobs, living wages, safe workplaces, and the right to join a trade union,” concludes Raina.