In its most recent research paper analysing the effects and
possible responses to digital disruption, the Productivity
Commission observes that with each wave of change
"speculation about the effects of technologies often
suffers from extreme optimism or pessimism".
While perhaps raising more questions than it answers, the
Productivity Commission focuses on the potential of digital
technologies to deliver economic benefits if regulated
It has been predicted that over the next 10 to 15 years, up to
40% of jobs in Australia will be put at risk because of automation.
However, the outlook probably isn't so grim, when you consider
automation of tasks has been
occurring for centuries, sometimes with surprising effects. The
automation of bottle making in the early 1900's for example not
only jolted productivity but also eliminated child labour from that
automation does not necessarily
equate with an increase in unemployment because new jobs are often
created. For example, higher skilled jobs may be created to
complement new technology.
certain jobs are not susceptible to
automation – for example, managerial, creative and caregiving
just because a job can be automated,
doesn't mean it will be. As anyone who has attempted to drop
off their baggage at an airport knows (or maybe it is just us!)
there are times when a machine or computer is no substitute for a
On the other hand, the Productivity Commission acknowledges that
automation will replace some jobs. Young people with little
experience and low skills and older people in industries subject to
major structural change are especially vulnerable to unemployment
The sharing economy
Online sharing platforms like Uber and Airbnb and the spread of
mobile technology gives rise to the potential for businesses to buy
services on an "as needs" basis. This may also create
opportunities for people to work flexibly, control their working
hours and supplement their income.
However, the sharing economy remains small and its growth is
uncertain. While some commentators have predicted that secure
employment will soon give way to an endless series of
"gigs" (see our previous blog
The sharing Economy – what's the potential?), the
Productivity Commission says that employers will be less likely to
hire labour in a range of circumstances including where there
high interdependence between
concern about the expropriation of
difficulty controlling the quality of
work provided by contractors; and
the need for loyalty and/or in-depth
knowledge of the business.
The report notes that if the sharing economy does take off,
there will be risks to be managed by government – but simply
blocking these technologies is not the answer (pardon the pun, but
it really is a case of we can't rewind, we've gone too
far). Rather, systemic changes to the workplace relations and
income support systems may be required to support individuals who
engage in the workforce in this way.
An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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