By Megameno Shikwambi
The fear of technology taking over jobs within the local banking sector has hit the Bank Workers Union of Namibia (BAWON) hard with the possibility that they may be rendered irrelevant if workers are to be replaced by machines.
BAWON is the union that has signed a recognition agreement with Standard Bank Namibia and represents workers in the bank while between 800 and 900 are fully registered members with full voting rights.
“From the union’s point of view when it comes to the future of work and skills, it is a big dilemma now because even the professors themselves really do not know what type of skills we really need in order for us to survive into this industrial revolution that we have embarked upon,” said Thomas Muchima, leader of BAWON.
Muchima emphasised that the need to change the educational curriculum, to see how best the country can be globally competitive skills-wise, has become an urgent one.
“We are not the ones that formulate or create this technology and some of the Europeans have already started to face these types of challenges because this technology is actually very destructive because the owners of these companies which are busy producing this type of technology are like a team of elites. So humanity is not part of the equation per se; that they need to say look, we need to balance the equilibrium between technology and human beings. It’s about what technology can do to produce more profits and not what a human being can do,” said Muchima.
The unionist said most Namibians are no longer visiting bank branches as they used to, embracing the convenience of internet banking powered by smartphone technology.
“The question is how about the tellers?” he quizzed. Muchima said families’ lives are being put on the line while already in South Africa Standard Bank has cut off thousands of jobs which have been taken over by machines. He expressed that the bank resorted to offering business funding to some in order to salvage their livelihoods. As a union faced with the inevitable wave of technology, they were living on borrowed time.
“To us this is a critical era where we are. We need to be awake and upskill ourselves. The little that we have we need to now start advocating, making sure that this technology needs to leave room for humanity as well.
You need to balance because everything in this world must be balanced. Where imbalance comes in, that’s where we hear of issues about global warming and that people are dying. It’s because there is a lot of imbalance. We are not saying technology is bad, it is good. But it should put the concept of humanity within the concept,” said Muchima. But there seems to be mixed feelings among trade unions as to whether at all the future of work will be disrupted by the power of machines, retrenching people in their droves. Sharan Burrow, secretary general of International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said it is people themselves who will decide the future of work and not machines.
“As a trade union leader, I am often asked about the impending catastrophic impact of technology on jobs. Are the more extreme estimates of job loss credible or is the reality more nuanced? Are we heading towards a data dystopia or on the road to a digital promised land?
In truth, nothing is written in stone. Technology itself will not determine the way forward. It’s all about the choices that governments, businesses, workers and their unions and societies as a whole make. Trade unions are calling for the Centenary Declaration to define the parameters of a new social contract between governments, businesses and workers, recognising that the future of production is not something that will be determined by technology, rather that it will be shaped by political, social and economic choices,” he said.
Burrow notes that there are 300 million people in the world identified as the “working poor” while official unemployment globally is around 190 million people.
Director of policy and special counsel for the AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the U.S is quoted as saying, “work is not going away. There will be new jobs created, and the content of existing jobs will change.”