Prepare for the robot army

Unions NSW recently commissioned YouGov to conduct a survey of 1000 Australians’ feelings about automation, and it seems many are anxious about the future of their jobs.

The survey found 81% of respondents believe automation will replace much of the work now being done by humans within 30 years. And that government is not doing enough to prepare them for the future of work.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said the research demonstrated deep anxiety about automation and a hunger for governments to intervene.

“Australians have lost faith in the promises of trickledown economists and small government ideologues,’’ he said.

“They know a robot army is about to invade the labour market and they want to know the government has a plan to secure their future.

“The OECD estimates more than one in three jobs will disappear within 15-20 years. Without a plan, this will unleash turmoil.”

He said jobs were the main mechanism for distributing income in Australia: “Across our supermarkets, banks, public transport and mines, robots are replacing people. This creates a direct transfer of wealth from workers to shareholders”.

“Technology must serve people, not the other way around.”

Respondents said they did not want to work more hours to compete with robots. In fact, the vast majority want a ban on unpaid overtime. A jobs guarantee was supported by 67% of respondents, although there has been little public debate on this idea.

Unions NSW Assistant Secretary Thomas Costa said the union movement is in an ideal position to understand the concerns of workers around job losses and job changes connected to automation and also to advocate on behalf of these workers for a fair transition that does not leave these workers behind.

“Proposals like a job guarantee and ban on unpaid overtime are part of this advocacy because they force government and business to bare some of the burden that technological change will bring as well as distributing some of the benefits to workers,” Costa said.