‘Disrupted Development’: the developing world, inequality & the digital future

UNI GS Philip Jennings on BBC Radio 4 warns, “The world is not prepared for the scope of changes we are seeing”

In a prime time BBC Radio 4 documentary, ‘Disrupted Development’, UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings called for caution and realism when evaluating both the challenges and opportunities of the Future World of Work.

Jennings said, “We have to be realistic when around half of the workforce in the United States of America is susceptible to be replaced by automation and when we get statistics that two-thirds of the workforce in China, Thailand, India and Malaysia and even higher in parts of Africa can be susceptible to replacement and automation.

“We should be concerned when 20% of the world’s population is illiterate and 60% doesn’t have any access to the internet, you don’t need a great deal of imagination to see what the skills issue will be for developing countries. They are going to have to invest in digital infrastructures and invest in their capacity to become digital and that will require investment in education and vocational training and investment in human capital.”

Jennings recognized the opportunities the digital revolution was creating urged a balanced view,

“There is rightly a lot of excitement about the digital changes we are seeing, and the new communications possibilities we are going to have and the advantages it will bring in terms of healthcare and the connectivity it brings to communities.

“But there is another side to the digital revolution that we are seeing, and it’s a side of different shades. What we are trying to do is have a much more considered conversation about what this means for jobs, what it means for economic development and what it means for decent work and prosperity. Our sense is that the world is not prepared for the scope of the changes we are seeing.”

The UNI GS’s point was echoed by another contributor to the BBC Radio programme, Deepak Mishra, Lead Economist at the World Bank and the Co-director for the World Development Report 2016 on Internet and Development.

Mishra said, “We believe that the biggest risk to the labour market from technology is not automation but world economic polarization: if you look at rich countries today, the share of middle paying-middle scale jobs is declining and the high skill jobs and the low skill jobs are increasing. So, the US labour force today has become highly polarized with 40% in the high skill and 20% in the low skill and the rest in the middle skill and that number is actually diminishing which means that there will be massive inequality if this trend is not reversed.”

The programme drew the same conclusion with presenter Lesley Curwen warning , “ The impact of digital technologies on developing countries – when it does happen –  may be to create even greater inequality between the technically skilled and unskilled populations in countries where political and social stability is wobbly at best.”

Listen to the full programme here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b092fhwm