May Day Thoughts: Labour – The Present and the Future

We celebrated Labour Day on May 1st in Ghana a few days ago as did quite a number of countries in the world. As a leader of my organisation’s Local Union, I took it as an opportunity to reflect on the changing times in the labour landscape and I would like to share some thoughts with us to enable us to appreciate the following trends in the ever-changing labour landscape in the 21st century.

 

Casualisation is on the increase:

At a time when the government is talking of the benefits of formalizing the informal sector, what we’re seeing is the increasing informalization of the workforce in the organized sector. The trend towards the casualisation of labour is unmistakable and therefore, we should be concerned about the casualisation of full-time work. Given that full-time workers are invariably the main bread winners of their households; the lack of wage security, lack of ability to bargain for a wage rise, and the inability to access leave could have major societal implications should the trend continue.

 

Digitisation is changing the way of work:   

The future of “white-colour” and/or “blue-colour” work depends upon several factors, long-term competitiveness and the demographic developments, etc. However, one of the main drivers of technological change in the foreseeable future is definitely digitalization and central to this development, is the production and use of digital logic circuits and its derived technologies, including the computer, the smart phone and the Internet. On the one hand, there are fears of massive job losses as contemporary occupations are rendered superfluous by robots, and on the other hand, there are hopes for large-scale employment and innovation gains. Smart automation will perhaps not cause overall job losses but may lead to considerable shifts in the structure of employment, e.g. regarding industries, occupations, skills and tasks. Is the present generation preparing themselves or ready for the impending shift in labour/work dynamics? Are you?

 

The Change Face of Trade Unions:

Labour unions have been protecting the rights of workers as far back as the 18th century. It’s because of collective bargaining (and sometimes worker protests) that some work forces today enjoy the right to argue for wage increases, access affordable healthcare, and improved working conditions within the workplace among many other achievements. In fact, Labour (May) Day, a public holiday celebrated in many countries at various times of the year, was created at the insistence of organized labour unions.

However, in the 21st century, Trade unions are not just concerned about “workplace, working conditions and wages, but also about housing affordability, marriage equality and parental rights”. As the work force shifts towards a more younger generation, people should expect to see Trade union campaign (through advocacy) on progressive issues. Natalie Long of the Australian Services Union in an interview summed it as follows,

A lot of the growing membership of younger members are wanting us (Trade Unions) to campaign on progressive issues. [Therefore] We’ve really branched out in the work that we do. Bargaining is a very small part of our work and I guess it’s what most people traditionally expect to see the union doing.

The above thoughts indicate that we as Trade Unions especially in Ghana and for some other countries have a long way to go. Notwithstanding, there are some significant structural changes that we need to make across the organisation to get us fit-for-purpose with the modern workforce.

I hope these thoughts will encourage us to reflect on business we do, the way we way as a result of changing and improved technologies (whether in the formal or informal sector) and the way forward for us all.

Happy Belated Labour (May) Day!

PS. Kindly take some time to share with me your thoughts and perceptions about labour issues in the present and for the future.

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