We can't predict job losses due to the 4th industrial revolution - labour minister

Predicting the amount of jobs that could be lost due to the fourth industrial revolution will be mere "speculation", Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant has said.

The minister was responding to a question from EFF MP Pebane Moteka about the number of jobs which would be lost or made redundant in the next 15 years as a result of technological developments of the fourth industrial revolution.

Jobs already lost

In a written reply, Oliphant said there had already been a number of job losses in certain sectors due to automation and work reorganisation.

"Predicting how many jobs will be lost or rendered redundant in 15 years’ time will be mere speculation, or maybe the work of actuarial science," she said

"Even the leaders at the World Economic Forum in 2017 could not predict the extent of job losses that will be attributed to the pace of artificial intelligence. 

"All they agreed on was that there will be both negative [developments] and opportunities in this new wave of automation," Oliphant added.

"There is no research in the word that has come up with empirical evidence of how many jobs will be lost as a result of artificial intelligence."

Disruption

Oliphant said existing research shows that "some negative impact" can be expected for existing jobs.

There will be disruptions in SA's workforce, she added. Workers in some jobs will be displaced, and those with low skills may have difficulty finding employment.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), which SA is part of, has highlighted steps member states can take in responding to the challenges presented by technological advances, Oliphant explained. She recommended members peruse the report the ILO issued on the subject for its recommendations.

Oliphant also said the presidential job summit held last year decided on various interventions. The labour department is further pursuing projects like the Labour Activiation Programme to improve the skills capacity of job-seekers, she explained.

"We are taking initiatives to prepare the labour market for any eventuality," she said.