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21 January 2016

Digitalisation of the economy: time to open the debate

digitalisation and future of work

In a ‘carte blanche’ column published on 18 January in the Belgian daily Le Soir, Christophe Degryse (ETUI) draws attention to the risks to employment and social cohesion posed by digitalisation of the economy.

‘The risks of the digital revolution that we are assured is imminent are threefold at least: massive job losses; increased polarisation of society; a deregulation of markets that threatens to wreak havoc with social security financing and to erode tax bases.’ Such is the warning issued by the ETUI researcher.

In the employment field he refers to a number of alarming studies forecasting the possibility of between 40 and 60% of jobs lost as a result of digitalisation of the economy. The workers most affected will be those with medium skill levels in areas such as office work, administrative support, sales, commerce, and numerous sectors of industry (robotisation, automation, etc.).

The risk is that the labour market will become polarised with, at one extreme, a small number of very highly skilled workers, the ‘superstars’, and, at the other, the mass of those who assist the robots, the ‘digital galley slaves’ who, forced to compete with each other on a worldwide scale, stand ever on the ready for the performance of low-skilled and low-paid micro-tasks.

The resulting weakening of the middle class could be accompanied by increasingly precarious living and working conditions for the great majority of workers.

Christophe Degryse believes that there is no time to be lost in opening up the debate on these digitalisation stakes that are of such fundamental importance for Europe. Political and economic actors, but also academic, cultural, social and trade union experts and practitioners must be able and encouraged to take part.

Christophe Degryse, senior researcher at the ETUI, is the author of ' Digitalisation of the economy and its impact on labour markets'.

Digitalisation of the economy will also be a central topic on the programme of the conference ‘Mastering the new world of work’, organised by the ETUI and to be held in Brussels on 27 to 29 June next.

Transfer, the European Review of Labour and Research will have a special issue on this theme in the future. It has launched a call for contributions (deadline 1 March 2016)

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