Unifor’s National President told leading U.S.business leaders that workers must not be left behind in the wave of industrial automation and that managing workplace technological change and just transition is critical.
“There’s no question automation puts jobs at risk but we have to confront that risk head on and exploit the opportunities new technology presents to allow us to work smarter and safer,” said Jerry Dias at the Industrial Exchange conference in Miami.
Dias was the only North American Labour leader invited to speak at the conference, which is exploring the impact of automation on workers and society.
“Workers must navigate new ground breaking technology and understand the importance of driving operational efficiency, but does it have to be at their expense?” asked Dias of 500 business owners and investors during a Future of Work Panel at the conference.
“In Canada we represent members in 20 of the key sectors of the country, all of which are impacted by automation. We are seeing the implementation of full automation of ore-hauling trucks in the Alberta oil-sands and we have public transit authorities testing autonomous buses. We have faced automation for decades in the major manufacturing plants, including auto, forestry and others. The transportation and aviation sectors are facing new technology and automation at an alarming rate. Our members are not naïve, or passive about what is at stake here,” said Dias.
Dias warned the business leaders not to use automation as a weapon for greed against workers and unions, who have a right to negotiate decent work and living wages and address income equality, because our society will be worse off. Dias went on to underscore that Unifor members will not be exploited.
“We know automation is going to have an impact on the Canadian job market and we should all be worried about the bigger impact on our social programs and our social safety net.”
Jobs are changing but workers should not live in fear that automation and robots are taking over explained Dias because people will always be the force behind successful businesses.
He said more support from governments and employers is needed to train workers for new tasks in what he described as a transformation of work. All levels of the education system need to respond with new programs and skills training to ensure society still has workers who will drive future business and economy.
Dias stressed that workers need to be informed in advance of technological changes in the workplace and must be involved in planning and bargaining transition plans that protect workers as businesses evolve and transform.
Unifor is not sitting idle. In 2018, the union hosted a national conference on the Future of Work in the face of technical change and automation. The conference brought together members from every sector to engage in discussion and work to develop strategies and solutions. The union continues to be engaged in this issue at bargaining tables and in conversations with legislators in Canada.