WORKERS OF THE WORLD, QUO VADIS? THE Post-Pandemic Challenge to Labor!
By Ricardo Sia
Manila, Philippines — In the recent research by the World Economic Forum published on February 15, 2021, on what 3,000 CEOs from around the globe think of the post-pandemic future of work, operational agility, and flexibility top all priorities, closely followed by technology and cybersecurity as the way to run industries. The report also mentioned that IBM recognizes the remote workplace as the key focus for future work set-up as employees are restrained by lockdowns, hinting that employment and livelihood crises as among the top risks this year.
In another research conducted by the 2021 CEO Study, it finds that corporate leaders are ready to get rid of distractions, discard outmoded traditions and exploit unique opportunities with eyes only to what are essentials. The CEOs noted as out-performers as compare to other firms break down technologies as imperative to business to deliver results, namely: Internet of Things; Cloud Computing; and Artificial Intelligence. These 3 pillars of technological infrastructure, if one may call them, become the holy grail which hold the key to insure viability and success in various industries in this trying time.
WORKERS IN PERIL
In another reality, not far from the board room where these tech savvy decisions are made stand the workers, unsettled and constantly threatened by the danger of the Covid virus, unaware of the fact that they are part of the agenda and that sooner rather than later, if not already affected, will have to face the consequences of technological transformations taking place at work.
As if the Pandemic’s conquest on decimating employment is not enough, which according to the latest ILO report in January has reached 250 Million worldwide, employers wittingly or unwittingly has institutionalized job loss by introducing new tech infrastructures at work causing permanent effect for the world of work.
The World Economic Forum report does not shy away from pointing out that employments are at risk and CEOs are avowed to get rid of distractions, which obviously comes to mind organized labor and trade unions, presumably as part of being agile and flexible in business operations. While it has been around since the early 2000 and has found root in many firms, the Pandemic made the technology almost a ‘conditio sine qua non,’ a rulebook, an indispensable strategy for business to outperform competitors. It will be tantamount to say that we should expect an increase in demand for these technologies this year even for medium- scale businesses. And again to the peril of the workers.
Giants in different industries and proponents of this post- Pandemic new normal at work licentiously claim that these technological changes has created millions of jobs in the form of on-line sellers, Uber drivers, Airbnb hosts, content creators, social media managers, app developers, gig economies, and a whole lot other jobs which are unheard of decades ago. Even LinkedIn reveals that the hottest job nowadays are done remotely and predicts boldly that technology will create 150 million jobs in the next
5 years. This maybe so, although devoid of certainty and exaggerated but let us not forget the other side of the coin. Even this metaphor is immensely imbalance and mangles the fact that this other side is overly excessive compared to the other one, that is, jobs taken away by technology. Even bleaker is the prognosis that several job positions will disappear before 2030 as automation comes into full swing. The same World Economic Forum cites in 2020 report that automation will supplant 85 million jobs by 2025.
While assuring that future tech-driven economy will generate job, it also comes with a dire warning that this may not be enough to go round, “particularly as the cost of smart machines falls overtime and their
WHEN TECHNOLOGY BECOMES THE FORCE
Surely, one would not want to commit an intellectual suicide by contending that we revert back to the old, pre-technological ways of doing things to protect the workers as if thinking wistfully that we are back to assembly lines as workers and are perennially safe, assured that companies cannot run without physical and mental effort put on production by us. That is a narrative so comforting but an archaic one. Post dreaming and going back to the real world, the challenge is how to respond to these changing times and not be blindsided by the geeky turn of events.
There is no other way, we have to understand technology, acquire tech skill-set, hover our way to the demands and requirements of whatever work settings the Post-pandemic situation will impose. Even now, employees are flooded with unknown and out of this world apps which sometimes can be very frustrating, hoping that they are back to the comfort zone of the old workflows.
Like it or not, Technology is here to stay.
Here is a simple version of how the CEOs are planning build up technological infrastructure.
- Internet of Things
Simply put, Internet of Things is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical or digital, human or animal imbued with unique identifier, a sensor or a bio-chip transponder capable of transferring data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-
Here alone, an explicit cancellation of human intervention or possible job position is posited, although people can interact with the devices. The connectivity, networking and communication protocols are largely provided by the IoT application.
- Cloud Computing
In a nut shell, this is the delivery of on-demand computing services over the internet on a pay-as-you go basis. It means renting from a cloud service provider like Amazon, access to applications, storage and processing power rather than owning IT infrastructure thereby avoiding cost of maintaining people and equipment. Here, the renter pays only for what they use and when they use it, relieving them of pressure on capital budgets and providing rooms for more flexibility.
- Artificial Intelligence
Intelligence in its normal and textbook definition is the ability to think, learn from experience, solve problems and to adopt to new situation. Infused this ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills to a robot, that is Artificial Intelligence. AI systems have been going for years and the Pandemic has accelerated the adoption of automated machines in industries.
Now, not only clerks, accountants and factory workers are in danger of extinction but jobs in other industries such as agriculture, health care, financial services, retails and logistics.
We are beyond Rubicon, it is now a lunacy to argue against technology in defense of all workers and what labor holds dear. Any modern Luddite will not fail to accept that being technopobic will only alienate you from society and you will disintegrate just like the man himself from the 19 th century.
However, there seems to be a great gap between what is immensely an obvious threat to workers around the world and the Labor Organizations and trade unions. While the CEOs are at constant pace with all the technological developments, organized labor and trade Unions are still busy with their old and traditional ways of doing things, and employees and workers are left alone content with gratification of having a smartphone and FB and Utube and Tiktok. Sad truth, we are nowhere ready to
match the speed, the scale and the challenges posted by technological advancements. Even industries with automated systems decries the lack of skills by workers to complete a simple task such as using a browser.
This stark reality could be overwhelming and with good reasons, the Pandemic is far from over and the prospect of job displacement in a not so distant future is certainly a threat. And it pushes us back to the basic question where the future of work hangs, what is to be done? The CEOs are unanimous in their roadmap to the future, does the labor movement have one? How can an ordinary worker who is preoccupied and hard-pressed daily by the thought of how to fend for themselves and their families be
an active agent to mitigate the effects technology to them?
Indeed, one cannot deny that technology has made life easier and enjoyable for everyone, from sophisticated and intricate assembly line of giant manufacturers, to the constant and unceasing exchange of information in smartphones down to the mundane and simplest house chores of each
individual in the family. If I may theorize, this luxury and uncanny ease provided by automation renders us complacent, oblivious of the dangers ahead of us, lobotomized our rationality making us incapable of
thinking critically, always seeking Google to provide us with answer to our everyday problems, date app to find our life partner and tiktoking in between. And that, is even more frightening. CPM