MEPs warned of impact of robots on employment

A parliamentary hearing was told there is growing concern about the impact of automation on employment.

A parliamentary hearing was told there is growing concern about the impact of automation on employment | Photo credit: Fotolia

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

08 Feb 2017

The event, 'The future of work', on was organised by Parliament's S&D and EPP groups.

MEPs heard that many jobs across Europe had already been destroyed by automation.

Stefan Olsson, a director in the European Commission's employment directorate, said there was concern about the pace of change in the world of work.


"We have already seen the destruction, or displacement, of many jobs in different sectors and the challenge posed by automation and digitilisation is one of the biggest we face in our labour markets. It is worrying."

He said the Commission planned to carry out a consultation exercise with its social partners in an attempt to assess the scale of the issue.

His comments were echoed by Nicolas Niemtchinow, assistant director general at the International Labour Organisation, who said traditional work was currently facing an unprecedented technological revolution.

"Of course, this is not the first industrial revolution but this one could be very different, particularly in terms of the speed and size of change that it is bringing about.

"We do not yet know the magnitude of the job destruction caused by this combination of new technologies but what we are seeing is quite unprecedented."

He said it was important that workers did not remain passive bystanders and that all parties are ready to embrace the opportunities created by changes brought about by automation.

The conference was co-hosted by Greeks MEPs Socialist Eva Kaili and Manolis Kefalogiannis.

Participants said that for every job created by robotic automation, several more will be eliminated entirely. At scale, this disruption will have a devastating impact on our workforce, it was said.

Economists disagree on the scale of the threat to employment, the meeting was told. An Oxford study which predicted that more than 40 per cent of occupations could be threatened by automation over the next two decades is now seen by many as far too pessimistic.

It heard that while approximately two-thirds of Americans believe that robots will inevitably perform most of the work currently done by human beings during the next 50 years, about 80 per cent also believe their current jobs will either definitely or probably exist in their current form within the same timeframe.

In a recent report, the World Economic Forum predicted that robotic automation will result in the net loss of more than five million jobs across 15 developed nations by 2020, a conservative estimate. 

Another study, conducted by the International Labour Organisation and cited at the event, states that as many as 137 million workers across Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam - approximately 56 per cent of the total workforce of those countries - are at risk of displacement by robots.


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