Digital world of work – Industry 4.0: Decent jobs, development of employment and income distribution in society

From June 8th to June 10th 2017, a seminar organized by LOC / MTC - League Operária Católica / Movimento de Trabalhadores Cristas, with the participation of delegations of the KAB and NBH from Germany; ACO from France; ACO and HOAC from Spain; BASE-Fut, CIFOTE, FIDESTRA, FTDC and LOC / MTC from Portugal as well as the European-wide EBCA and EZA - European Centre for Workers' Questions - under the topic "Digital world of work – Industry 4.0: Decent jobs, development of employment and income distribution in society", took place in Mora (district and diocese of Évora). The seminar was supported by the European Union and was part of the EZA project coordination on the "Impact of the digital working environment on the lives of workers and their families - social-ethical considerations".

The meeting was opened and presided by the Archbishop of Évora, José Alves, who welcomed this international initiative in his diocese and highlighted the importance and relevance of this theme. He gave words of encouragement to LOC / MTC. José Paixão, National Coordinator of the LOC / MTC, welcomed the national and international participants and pointed out that today there is a new political situation in Portugal which is viewed by workers with certain hopes, even if there is still great deprivation in many Portuguese families, therefore, it is important to reflect on the value of work, social dialogue and collective bargaining in order to build a better society. Rainer Rißmayer, the representative of the EZA, spoke about the importance of seminars like this, which are organized across Europe and deal with different topics, and thanked LOC / MTC that such an important topic as the digital working world and the fourth industrial revolution and its impacts on the future was chosen. Luís Simão Duarte, mayor of Mora, congratulated and thanked LOC / MTC for choosing the Mora district as the venue and gave a brief overview of the employment and social situation in his district.

The speakers at the meetings were: Ana Santos of the ILO-Lisbon, information scientist; José Fernando Almazán of HOAC Spain, engineer; Fernando Marques of the Department of Labor Research of the CGTP-IN, economist; Ricardo Coelho of the LOC / MTC, economist.

In the first session, Ana Santos talked about the ILO (International Labour Organization) (also IAO), the background of their formation, their objectives and functioning over the years and the upcoming 100th anniversary in 2019. She reported on the issues that will shape the future of work and, according to the ILO, be grouped into four areas: Work and society, decent work for all, organization of work and production as well as control of work. She argued that the ILO had no magic wand to solve all problems; that the future of work is not predetermined; rather, we are called upon to design it. We are undergoing a major change that involves risks. One does not know where globalization will lead, which calls for a serious debate on the changes in the working world. The work must adapt to human beings and not vice versa, which is why the ILO advocates full employment, a more equitable distribution of the productivity gains resulting from the new technologies, and new forms of social protection.

In the second session José Fernando Almazán of HOAC / Spain spoke about topics ranging from the work of the communion to love. Work is a gift and a humanization project that is linked to the construction of society and is essential for human realization and not just a source of income. The future will depend on our alertness for reality, our support for workers, the values and criteria of life that stimulate us to act, while counteracting individualism and building bridges between Christians and non-Christians, in order to create believable alternatives and offers within the meaning of decent work for a decent society.

Labour is the centre of every social pact and not a means of consumption. Between work and consumption there are still many important and wonderful aspects, which are called: dignity, respect, honour, freedom, rights, the rights of all.

In the third session, Fernando Marques of the CGTP-IN compared the digital working world with its effects on collective negotiations. He argued that there are analysts who point to a massive destruction of jobs and work relationships, while others foresee the emergence of new forms of work and new activities and services. This discussion is not new, and the first thesis has never confirmed, which is why he considers the second to be more realistic, but it requires changes in the working world, and one of these is the reduction of working hours. With regards to collective negotiations, he warned that the greatest danger was the loss of collective relations. He confirmed this with three points: 1. How can one perceive work relations in times of precariousness, in which workers are reduced to service providers? 2. The impact on working conditions and the prospect of greater inequalities, which are the fruit of the polarization of labour, in which a few are highly qualified, but the great majority belongs to the low-wage sector and can easily be replaced. 3. How can social security be sustained and what is its mission in the future?

The fourth session consisted of a roundtable on the situation of each represented country with regards to the development of employment, as well as the economic consequences of the high rates of unemployment and precarious work, in which the following experts participated: Américo Monteiro of the LOC/MTC from Portugal, Xavier Such of the ACO from Spain, Andrée Elis of the ACO France and Ludger Bentlage of the KAB Germany. The rise in precariousness, the diversity of precarious situations and the growing inequalities were the common denominator of this exchange. This goes so far that young people see a 6-month contract as a lottery win. Another finding was that if the current social and economic model were not called into question, one could temporarily mitigate the one or the other effect of the crisis, but these would always come up, since the current economic model is suicidal. Finally, the need to organize solidarity and to promote dialogue with the people we know has been underlined; work colleagues and family members, as the seeds of a new world and affirmation, that another reality, which is different from the present one, is possible.

During the fifth session, Ricardo Coelho encouraged the LOC / MTC to think about how we can put the economy at the service of the people. Economics is nothing different from economics in our homes. With the publication of Laudato Si by Pope Francis, the latter presented an economic treatise, namely, the management of the common house. The future will not depend on technological developments, but on how we approach them and which goals we pursue. With the industrial revolution 4.0 in progress, the challenge of employment for all is still on the table. Full employment has more to do with distribution of wealth rather than with technological progress. Work is the best way to distribute wealth, but other forms are also to be encouraged, such as the way to reduce working hours without any pay cuts; and in view of the fact that many others have work, a minimum wage for the precarious ones; nurturing the common good and finally, as consumers, buying more regional products.

We are more concerned with the sphere of political decisions by citizens than the strictly economic or technological sphere. He therefore took an active part in the empowering of the citizenship, from which many have distanced themselves. But when many are clearing the field, others take their place, disfiguring the sense of economy and technology by placing it in the service of profit rather than the service of man.

Hardly a sentence of the gospel fits better than: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.“ (Mt 9, 37).

Participants of the seminar visited the CONESA factory, a tomato factory under the leadership of the managing director, António Praxedes, who explained how the activities of approximately 60 permanent employees and the more than 250 seasonal workers are coordinated during tomato harvesting and processing season which lasts for about two months (end of July until the end of September). He spoke of the importance of this factory for the economy and employment for Mora and its surroundings. The technological development of the factory could be noticed here, since the production has doubled over the last 20 years, with almost even fewer employees. It is not considered that the technological evolution will destroy jobs, but that production can be increased with a smaller increase in the number of workers.

 

 

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