Think Tank Talk - The Uberisation of the Labour Market

22 Feb 2017
Geneva, Switzerland


Event report/s:
Barbara Rosen Jacobson

This luncheon discussion, organised by the Think Tank Hub, addressed the current changes in the labour market driven by

This luncheon discussion, organised by the Think Tank Hub, addressed the current changes in the labour market driven by the fourth industrial revolution. The topic was presented by guest speaker Jan Smit, a Partner of the Centre for Strategy & Evaluation Services, which recently published the report ‘Industry 4.0’ for the European Parliament.

Smit first addressed the phenomenon of ‘uberisation’, both as a narrow phenomenon affecting the transportation sector and as a broad trend visible in other sectors such as as journalism, tourism, finance, delivery services - with important consequences for society at large. This trend is put into motion by developments in technology, which could be presented as ‘Industry 4.0’. While the fourth industrial revolution is often either presented as an opportunity for increased productivity or in relation to IT security, Smit focused on its consequences on work and labour. He addressed the following issues:

  1. To realise the potential of industry 4.0, a large number of people with a background in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) are needed. European countries might not be able to address the shortage of IT engineers among their own population, and will need to attract candidates from other parts of the world.
  2. The centres that will be established around industry 4.0 will be increasingly specialised and spatially concentrated, away from the periphery, which might lead to increased inequality.
  3. Immigration needed for an industry 4.0 workforce is challenged by current European attitudes and perceptions of immigrants.
  4. There is a need for a new education programme to generate the range of skills (IT and others) required to take full advantage of industry 4.0.
  5. Automation will make certain jobs redundant, which will have an important impact on social security.
  6. Small businesses often do not have the resources to engage with industry 4.0 and are therefore challenged by services that are offered directly to the consumer.

These issues generate policy challenges for governments, as they can ultimately affect the ‘tenants of the world order’.

The Q&A session addressed a wide range of related topics, including the possibility of increased polarisation and inequality between developed and developing countries, and the question of whether these challenges are inherently new, or whether they are old challenges in a new context. Wider topics were also addressed, such as Internet governance, data protection, and the potential effects of artificial intelligence.

The Think Thank Talk on The Uberisation of the Labour Market will be held on 22 February 2017, between 12.00 and 14.00 CET, in Geneva, Switzerland. The event is organised by the The Think Thank Hub, an initiative by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and managed by foraus, a Swiss Think Thank – Forum of Swiss Foreign Policy.

Labour conditions have been changing over time and we are currently living in what many call a 4th industrial revolution, from a labour market mainly driven by multinationals towards the auto- entrepreneur’s labour market. The Uberisation phenomenon is revolutionising labour conditions through technology platforms which facilitate work and create a 'people experience' for workers which eclipses the traditional company culture. But this evolution raises substantial concerns ranging from job insecurity to a regulatory race-to-the-bottom. Furthermore, this trend is politically sensitive since it raises the debate about whether the gains of consumers outweigh the loss of job security. In fact, some countries traditionally more left-leaning have already decided to ban certain services that others see as an unavoidable future of society.

The event will offer a space to reflect on how this trend affects the labour market and labour conditions. It also aims at assessing what are the losses of workers in respect with the gains of auto-entrepreneurs and consumers. Do the gains outweigh the losses? Amid growing tendencies towards populism and protectionist policies, we might also wonder how this disruptive process will be addressed by these new sets of policies and how it is likely to evolve accordingly over time. It is time to discuss the future of labour conditions.

For more information, visit the event webpage.



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