Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Colloquium

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

17 September 2019
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee heard inputs from stakeholders on the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the South African context; job losses, gains and replacements; the role of government and the private sector; policy considerations; higher education curricula; and the decolonisation of the higher learning education sector.

Members asked about translating 4IR concept documents into indigenous languages; Trade and Industry policy; personal privacy and national security threats posed by 4IR. There was a deep concern about the inequality gap widening as the result of technological advances as HSRC stated that those in possession of capital and resources would experience an increase in economic returns, whilst the poor would see a decrease in economic returns as a result of the technological advances.

Members were insistent about the importance of incorporating digital and technological advances in the basic and higher education curricula and asked about efforts to incorporate these into the curricula.

Stakeholders across the board commented on the inevitability of job losses. However, the government's role should be to ensure that it pioneered 4IR through its departments and delivery of basic services as well as re-skilling and capacitating employees.

Members were concerned about the rural areas and how government and stakeholders would ensure that people in rural areas would not be left behind. CSIR responded about the concern that 4IR was for advanced countries not South Africa. It advised that it should not be viewed from context of other countries but within South African context. Government should consider looking at how it could best make use of technologies that have already been developed in other countries but to benefit South Africa.

The point of decolonisation of higher learning education had mixed reactions. SAUS made it clear that it was unhappy with Prof Jansen’s changing his position on advocating for decolonisation of higher education. SAUS said this was a critical issue affecting students. Thus academics whose voices carry weight in the sector should not undermine the student body they previously encouraged.

The labour unions, COSATU and SAFTU, had conflicting views on whether 4IR should be encouraged in South Africa. COSATU was concerned about job losses resulting from previous industrial revolutions and the current state of unemployment and how 4IR would affect employment in the future. It named jobs that have been lost since the introduction of new technologies in some retail stores across the country. Work done by humans was now performed by machines and robotics. SAFTU was more accepting of 4IR. If government stays at the forefront of pioneering 4IR policies and plans to ensure that employment does not take a hit, South Africa could take a lead on the African continent in technological advances. Of course re-skilling would need to take place.

Meeting report

The Chairperson noted an apology from the Minister.

Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) briefing on demystifying 4IR
Dr Daniel Visser, Research and Development Strategy Manager at CSIR, defined 4IR as referring to the fusion of technologies in the physical, digital and biological domains leading to the creation of new technologies that will usher in a new industrial era characterised by exponential growth, inter-connectedness, increased human productivity and the blurring of the lines between man and machine.

In answering the question what should South Africa be doing about 4IR, he said that key institutional and system-wide elements should include a conducive and supportive policy environment; state support instruments and incentives; research, a development and innovation environment; and public-private partnership models and instruments.

He spoke about the South African Centre for 4IR, a public-private partnership based at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The Affiliate Centre is a partnership with the World Economic Forum's Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network (C4IR Network). It focuses on developing, piloting and scaling agile governance tools that can be adopted by policy-makers, legislators and regulators around the world. The Centre identifies pressing economic and social challenges that can be addressed in innovative ways using science and technology advancements.

The coordinating body for all efforts in South Africa would be the 4IR Presidential Commission.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on 4IR policy implications
Dr Nimrod Zalk, DTI Industrial Development Policy and Strategy Advisor, outlined the policy principles for 4IR and digitalisation:
- Digital industrialisation: involves both incremental changes and disruptive technological innovations.
- Digital industrialisation must create conditions for more domestic value creation and distribution.
- Systemic changes call for systemic and integrated policy frameworks: trade, regulation, competition, taxation, industrial, technology, skills and infrastructure policies.

Policy considerations for 4IR and digitalisation:
- Policy space and digital sovereignty: would be considered through global, regional and bi-lateral negotiations; the need for global rules that are developmental and enable digital sovereignty; and developing countries need to preserve policy space to respond to current and future technological changes.
- Taxation: taxation of physical and digital goods and services; fiscal integrity; and measures to address base erosion and profit shifting.
- Competition and regulation.
- Digital infrastructure: ensure the 5G network rollout is competitive and delivers affordable data.
- Digital industrial capabilities: firms need to acquire digital capabilities as part of industrial upgrading.
- Digital industrial capabilities skills sets as well as digital policy skills sets.

Dr Zalk referred to the Industrial Development Think Tank (IDTT) documents as helpful resources.

Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) briefing
Ms Jeanette Morwane, Acting Deputy Director-General for Information Society Development at DTPS presented on 4IR’s impact:
- New technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with government, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities.
- Governments will increasingly face pressure to change their current approach to public engagement and policymaking.
- Legislators and regulators must continually adapt to a new, fast-changing environment, reinventing themselves so they can truly understand what it is they are regulating.
- Governments and regulatory agencies will need to collaborate closely with business and civil society.
- Governments will not be able to address emergence of digital economy in isolation but must build and develop capacity to drive the process robustly

South Africa is ranked as a nascent (limited production base and at risk for the future) and is within the top 50 countries. Leading countries include; China, Japan, Germany, South Korea and USA. South Africa’s manufacturing share of the GDP has decreased to 12% since early 1990s. SA has strongest structure of production in Africa. SA has ability to innovate with a strong innovation culture and entrepreneurial activities supported by a sophisticated financial sector. Human capital remains the most pressing challenge, with shortage of engineers, scientists and digital skills. There is a stable policy environment but it needs to improve its institutional frameworks to respond to change.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) appreciated the input from CSIR. However, she asked how far the stakeholders were in transforming the Fourth Industrial Revolution concept documents into indigenous languages. She asked the DTI to share its policy experiences from previous revolutions.

Mr B Yabo (ANC) shared his concern about privacy in the new dispensation. He asked about security threats that could potentially be posed by 4IR on both a national and personal level and particularly how it would affect personal privacy. Transformation of technologies tend to encroach on personal privacy.

He asked about the inequality gap which would be enhanced when 4IR is in full operation in South Africa because the new technologies would benefit the haves, not the have-nots. He asked about plans to up-skill and re-skill and capacitate society to avoid job losses and catch up with the rest of the world.

Mr P Keetse (EFF) said that it was important to understand that 4IR would benefit South Africa in the future if the curricula in basic education as well as higher education incorporated it. He asked about the plans to incorporate 4IR in the basic and higher education. He advocated for the decolonisation of previous Revolution education and learning.

Mr B Nodada (DA) asked if the Department of Basic Education was invited to the colloquium because the type of problems facing the higher education sector stem from root level. He asked what would be done to ensure that the people in rural areas who do not have access to technology were not left behind by 4IR. He feared that group of people would be left behind.

He asked about the outputs of pursuing 4IR and what it meant for South Africa. During the Science Festival where children from various schools across the country were present, kids from well resourced schools where able to identify the different advanced technologies and 3D printing whilst kids who came from disadvantaged schools had no clue about the technologies showcased at the festival. These imbalances were worrisome. It was important to understand what we are trying to achieve with 4IR as a country.

He suggested that there must be a link between education, the job market and teaching (teachers). Teachers must be able to transfer the advanced technology and skills they would have acquired from being empowered. Government must be a leading player in pioneering 4IR. In many developing countries one would find that government controlled its people by not educating them. People would not ask questions if they were uninformed and uneducated. You cannot have a discussion on 4IR if government is not investing in digital technologies in its departments.

Ms Nomahlubi Nkume, Economic Researcher at South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) quoted Albert Einstein: “Foolishness is repeating the same thing over and over again.” It cannot be that the adopted neoliberal policies in the first, second and third revolution which have resulted in millions of South Africans lacking skills, should be enabled to thrive in this revolution. We want to go into 4IR ensuring that the State was leading and we cannot go into this revolution without ensuring that those millions of South Africans were not left behind.

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) asked about the implications of 4IR on employment and how it could be ensured that it did not deepen gender disparity in the country. She was passionate about digitising government basic services but she asked what 4IR meant in the African context.

Mr Sabelo Sibanda, Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) Researcher, referred to the CSIR remarks on the importance on re-languaging and social revolution that would be coming due to the societal impact of the revolution (4IR). It was not enough to lament the inequalities without looking in the first place at the impact of this revolution on those who were on the outside of the inner circle of technology. He referenced the example of an institution that chose to introduce machines in the cafeteria and the employees working in cafeteria were disposed of but nothing was done about that.

The DTPS presentation mentioned four urgent interventions for critical growth. He believed that a fifth intervention should have been introduced which speaks to ensuring how people would not end up as victims under 4IR. As we advance we ensure that unemployment does not increase. He did not hear much about the protection element as technology is viewed in a positive light. However, we have seen in the music industry how it was impacted negatively by piracy. We should be thinking about introducing protective measures for artists in that space.

Mr Thabo Shingange, South African Union of Students (SAUS) Spokesperson, agreed with Mr Nodada's comments about taking 4IR into consideration at the basic education level. An honest conversation on 4IR was indeed necessary – particularly whose interests 4IR would primarily serve. He was asked to speak on 4IR at the University of Venda. However, he was perplexed on how he would speak on 4IR when that institution and its community have barely gone through the previous industrial revolution. Whose interests does 4IR serve? He agreed with the comments on the State being at the forefront. In the TVET Sector, there were serious infrastructure challenges. How would 4IR fit into that space when TVET College infrastructure was not good? He felt that the conversation was being rushed and it was not being utilised in the best interest of the broader constituencies in the country. These are the debates coming from universities and many students across different universities actually reject the notion of 4IR because the state of infrastructure and socio-economic challenges did not allow people and students in those constituencies to fully utilise the benefits that are said to be coming with 4IR.

Dr Visser, CSIR, replied to the comments about whose 4IR this is and how far behind we are. He did not believe that South Africa was behind because the conversation around 4IR needs be had within the context of South Africa. We need to look at 4IR within the South African context not other countries. We need to develop it for ourselves.

He agreed that the adoption of technologies should be done within the South African context. We can use the technologies that have been developed elsewhere but the question is how do use those technologies to respond to our societal issues. These technological developments and advances are already happening across the world and it would behove South Africa to take advantage of those technologies to develop and grow the economy.

How we bring these technologies on board is more important. The concern about language barriers was well received. It is important for Africa to look at digital biometrics because facial recognition technology does not work because not enough data has been inputted on African faces, accents and languages, amongst other things. That is work that we have to do. We do not need to worry what the Europeans are doing but what we are going to do for Africa.

Ms Morwane, DTPS, replied that security is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in the country through policies and legislation. There is a cybercrime policy that has come through. The drones that have been flying around speak directly to security. On the digital divide, as much as 4IR is posing a challenge to employment, there will be the creation of new quality jobs. For example, in mining, people could be re-skilled to operate robotics that would be doing jobs that were previously done by humans in that space. Concerns that had been raised would be taken up to the 4IR Presidential Commission to ensure they were looked into.

Mr Zalk replied that one of the most foundational issues raised by Members was employment. It is important to start from an educational perspective and address the imbalances from that space.  Job losses have historically come up as a concern and we are not aware to what extent but it will happen.

There are opportunities that will come with 4IR and we can start looking at areas of job complementing instead of job replacements. There are aspects of the economy where we can unlock a relative amount of unskilled employment and one area could be agriculture.

Mr Lechesa Tsenoli, Deputy Speaker of Parliament, said that there is a speech by the Minister of Basic Education that responds to Mr Nodada’s comments.

At this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), Parliament had an expo looking at what was happening in the music industry on piracy. There was a young person who demonstrated some mechanism imprint on the art work that could be traced on pirated artistic work. There is already protection looming in that space.

Work was being done to bring internet to rural areas and the goal was to cover all rural areas in South Africa.

The students that reject 4IR already have access to technology. He requested Mr Shingange to join him and share some of the work that is being done in the higher education sector.

In the legal environment, there are things that artificial intelligence would bring to the table to assist judges and lawyers in the judicial system. There is so much work done by humans in the courts and it generates a backlog in court rolls – the advancement of technology would assist with efficiency in the most important sectors in our economy.

There is technology in some countries where it is used to detect people that come into the country with certain diseases.

Our role as Parliament was to ensure that we oversee the development of a strategy that would harness the advantages and deal with the risks such as deepening levels of inequality and unemployment.

It is a fact that job losses would take place but quality jobs would be created. However, this is where investing in education and capacitating that sector with the right tools is important for future job creation.

Mr Imran Patel, DHET Deputy Director General: Socio-Economic Partnerships, said that if we talk about data systems, one of the interesting things that Parliament could look into is if the legislation passed has built in technological weaknesses. There is a need to see how legislation can become an enabler for the new technologies. As a country we are not creating the demand for indigenous language requirements in departments, for example. It would be useful to look at digitalisation and be at the cutting edge.

Mr Tsenoli said in the 90s there was the information highway and SITA was created based on four pillars of information systems that should be brought about. The objective was to break the silo operation of departments. So we must go back and resuscitate those pillars.

Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) briefing
Prof Jonathan Jansen, ASSAf board chairperson, warned about the dangers of destruction. 4IR and decolonisation are destructions and there are important concerns embedded in them. Today our country is on the front page of the New York Times and the essence of the article is about violence in our country and South Africa operates at a political level that does not connect to the socio-economic issues on the ground. Slogans such as ‘land expropriation without compensation’ and ‘white monopoly capital’ are all important issues with an element of truth in them like decolonisation. We have used 4IR this morning so many times that it sounds like a political slogan. We have to be aware of the power of the language used in dealing with such issues.

We cannot have an effective 4IR unless we fix the foundations of basic education. A study has been done about the most expensive schools in Africa and a book on that study will be published early next year. The fundamental question about who 4IR is for remains critical because children in the more expensive, or rather advanced, schools will absorb these new technologies because they have the infrastructure and the teachers who are ready. For example, outcomes based education benefited those schools more because they already had the infrastructure.

About half a million kids do not make it from Grade 1 to 12. Almost 80% of Grade 4 learners fall below the lowest level of reading literacy. So talk about 4IR with those facts staring at you in the face. Half the students that enter university drop out in the first year. Universities across the country are in trouble and four campuses are shut right now but we talk as if we are in another world. We need to be realistic about where we are. When looking at the necessity of the country being part of 4IR, we need to connect that to where most young people actually are. Not much of that was said.

In the Eastern Cape, Rhodes University is in a municipality that the ruling party cannot govern and they fight like cats and dogs yet they cannot provide water to the university. Three residences in the university are without water and the potholes in High Street are worse than the Free State. That university contributes about 60% of the municipality GDP. If that university goes down, that municipality will go down. The university has a turnover of R1.3 billion and provides about R40 million per year to the municipality. So we need to revisit the question on who is this 4IR for.

Human Science Research Council briefing
Prof Sharlene Swartz highlighted that school education in 4IR needs to focus on cognitive skills; ICT skills; relational skills (empathy, creativity, innovation, social skills, managing complexity, socio-technical analysis and imagination). TVET colleges need to be re-imagined and reinvigorated as hubs of innovation.

Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) briefing
Ms Trudi van Wyk, DHET Chief Director of Social Inclusion, Equity, Access and Quality, said that in the age of intelligence of machines, it was important that skills development took place across the board. More support on research and development was required like never before and universities cannot be left behind in the innovation drive. Lecturers and teachers should be encouraged to change the way we teach and lecture in the education sector. The country needs to move towards making use of technology in the classrooms. There is a White Paper that addresses this and a National Skills Plan is currently being developed.

The Department had partnered with HSRC to develop a list of skills that are and would be in demand in the future as a result of 4IR and technological advancements. DHET is already driving career development around this and ensure that Post School Education and Training (PSET) curricula were updated and responsive to changing dynamics. The development of artisans through centres of training for advance technologies would be considered. A plan for 4IR would be developed.

COSATU submission
Mr Matthew Parks, COSATU Parliamentary Coordinator, said that the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) in the country are a shame because they fail to produce the right skills required in the job market and were filled with corruption. With 4IR, the dangers of not planning for the future would result in mass unemployment. The 4IR Commission focuses on the Information Technology aspect and neglects the social aspect of technological advances.

SAFTU submission
Mr Phakedi Moleko, SAFTU Deputy Secretary General, said that this may very well be the first revolution South Africa will fully participate in both as leader of commerce and free agents. Try as we may, South Africa cannot avoid the 4th Industrial Revolution. We can either participate as leaders or stand on the sidelines as by-standers but the “revolution” is here and in fact it has begun. Broadly South Africa's active participation should not be drive by capitalist class greed and perpetuation of working class oppression and exploitation.
The foundations of 4IR include universal digital access, human capital, government support and repurposing of skills but all of this is centered on consultative democracy and social inclusivity. In terms of labour skills versus the economy, there are three sources of labour mismatch that plague the SA economy and contribute to the so called “skills gap”. Firstly, demand mismatch: where there is a surplus of low skills labour and a demand for high skilled labour. Secondly, the educational mismatch where you have few graduates coming out with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. Thirdly, a qualification mismatch which sees graduates taking up jobs which do not match their qualifications.

Capital flight, which stood at 7% in the last recorded statistics, is playing a huge role in widening the skills gap. The implications are a rise in precarious work, increase in exploitative practices and circumvention of laws. Attitudes about digitalisation are split among trade unions with some seeing it as an opportunity and others as a threat. Labour needs to:
- define the strategic imperatives needed to guard the wellbeing of labour in the digital age and beyond;
- prepare its constituents for new forms and types of jobs and call for provision of training for those jobs in ensuring smooth transition;
- advocate for conducive labour regulations including actively driving key policies affected by digitalisation.
Digitalisation will come with job losses such as use of robots in mining. Hence unions must remain ahead of the curve and develop strategic and progressive partnerships in skills repurposing and retraining.

Human Science Research Council (HSRC) briefing
Dr Michael Gastrow, HSRC Chief Research Specialist in Education and Skills Development, spoke on future skills forecasting and the impact of 4IR on re-skilling and re-training. His notes overlapped with other presentations already made and so he would focus on issues that were not yet touched on.

The quantitative approaches (model economic activity through econometrics) in analysing skills forecast may be wrong. On 4IR debate, this is a critical point because technological disruptions in 4IR labour market are essentially unpredictable. This is a core idea and any modelling you do is wrong. So there is a limit to what can be predicted. Ultimately when we talk about skills forecast we need to look at qualitative and quantitative approaches with a clearly defined development framework that is clear on where you want to go. This needs to be on-going because the technological market is ever-evolving.

The HSRC has been leading the labour market intelligence partnership for the DHET for some time with the objective of creating credible mechanisms for skills planning in South Africa. So there is significant amount of research that has been done through that partnership.

Essentially, one of the key findings was thinking about where skills forecasting and planning takes place and the concept of centralised planning can be challenged. In other words, centralised planning is a necessary function of government but it is necessary to think about decentralised planning and an embedded foresight and planning.

Key issues on the skills supply side; we need to cultivate the capacity of PSET institutions to engage with employers on their current and future skills needs, which changes along with technological changes. Secondly, the curriculum circle needs to be shortened. Thirdly, within universities cultivate the research agenda that senses technological changes, accordingly this can be seen in post graduate curricula.

On the skills demand side, there are actions that can be taken. Firstly, to strengthen platforms for the private sector to make sense of the technological changes and better understand how it might impact on their future skills requirements; this may apply to government as an employer as well. Potentially building and strengthening platforms for dialogue between employers and PSET systems to facilitate the exchange of information about the impact of technological change and skills demand.

Technological changes give rise to unemployment and new employment which means that this is not a question of job loss and job gain but job change. The complexity of this is vast and not a simple equation. The use of technological advances can drive economic growth which may translate to job growth. So understanding the internal dynamics of all these processes was important. However, these technological advances increases economic returns to those who hold the investment and capital but decreases economic returns for those that do not.

We need to focus on technical skills related to each of these technologies. At the same time, machines are going to be more effective at things that machines are better at doing – they will out-compete humans in those things. While we need to create the skills to develop the tech and operate it, we need to focus on those areas where humans have comparative advantage which means looking at curricula and teaching modalities that focus on creativity, empathy and social dynamics. Machines cannot do those things.

The question of re-skilling in the workplace is a changeling one because it is distinct from the post school learning. There are some traditional modalities of work place skills which can happen through sector-driven programmes or SETAs and so on. The thinking needs to shift to new modalities such as online learning, life-long learning and peer-learning. We need to understand how firms and individuals are using these modes of learning and make sure that government understood how these learning platforms operate and leverage these new modes and incorporate into policy and planning.

When it comes to forecasting, one area to look at is building universities and industry linkages that are dedicated to workplace re-skilling and strengthen the roles and capacities of intermediaries. The DHET could be a intermediary.

On challenges; one challenge is who pays for the re-skilling? Is it the government or the companies or the individuals? Whatever the outcome is, it needs to be aligned to the international labour concept of dignified work. In order words, we are not in a position as a country to shift towards low wage and unskilled labour; there are very limited prospects there. Also how do we skill when the basics are not there. So re-skilling has a limit to what it can accomplish but firms need to mitigate the technological advances that result in unemployment.

Mr Shingange said it was unfortunate that Prof Jansen had left because his response was directed to him. It is ironic that Prof Jansen would say that decolonisation is dangerous when in 2008 he published a book ‘Knowledge in the Blood’ where in the first 12 pages of the book he gave an account on the state of higher education and advocated for decolonisation. He felt provoked by Prof Jansen’s remarks.

On decolonisation of education, it is important to bring to Parliament into these discussions. People like Prof Jansen have been given a profound voice in the higher education space and such voices carry a lot of weight in that space.

More often than not you find universities hiding behind institutional autonomy and DHET tends to allow universities to develop their own curriculum. If we want to speak decolonisation, it cannot be left to the universities alone to drive the decolonial agenda and curriculum. The state and as well as this Portfolio Committee need to be at the forefront of driving decolonisation in the higher education sector and shaping some of the ideas that speak to the concerns of the students. Previous student protests such as Rhodes Must Fall, Stellies Must Fall and Afrikaans Must Fall speak to the heart of decolonisation, not only about the curriculum but  also about the structures of the university;  its governance and institutional culture.

There are two new universities that would soon be opened and this would be a missed opportunity to shape a decolonial institution. So the next time the Committee engages on decolonisation, the opposition of Prof Jansen should be invited to the Committee to share their views.

Mr Mxolisi Ncipha from SAUS spoke about the e-learning platforms that universities would adopt with the looming 4IR. It takes a whole village in Africa to raise a child and these 4IR changes would have implications for social gatherings with other students which in a sense do enhance the child’s learning abilities. This will result in the removal of the social cohesion of the learners. African universities should be encouraged to remain so.

Secondly, at the centre of 4IR is the Green Economy and we are doing very little to address that. NASA recently released a study that claims that Mpumalanga is the second most polluted area in terms of carbon dioxide. That is contradictory to what the country seeks to achieve with 4IR.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) said that it becomes harder and harder to unbundle this 4IR thing. People in our communities are not concerned about 4IR because there are many social and economic challenges that our people on the ground are largely concerned about. She suggested that the country should rather transition towards 4IR at a slow pace.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) suggested that the Committee needs to be the custodian of arranging collaborations with all the relevant sectors and stakeholders. The Committee should be at the centre and ensure that every stakeholder that ought to participate on the development of 4IR does play their part and participate. A further analysis needs to be conducted in identifying if South Africa is ready for 4IR.

Mr Sibanda, PAC researcher, said that he was provoked on the issue of decolonisation. He did not believe in decolonisation because from his perspective it simply speaks to reacting to the colonial experience. When you decolonise with the foundation being the colonial experience, you will be subject to the new imperialist - the Chinese. Hence, it is so easy for Africans to take on other cultures that are so meaningless to us. We need to introduce an African-centred education because that would respond to our African realities.

He asked COSATU and SAFTU to what extent have they considered doing research on the future bargaining power of workers. To what extent are employees able to bargain a decent salary considering that employees would be easily disposable with the 4IR?

To Dr Gastrow who mentioned job change rather than job loss, he said that job losses would definitely take place and so that cannot be disregarded in the equation.

To Dr Zalk, who mentioned that you cannot leap frog a revolution, when looking at the informal sector, do you not think that the informal sector would have to be leap frog straight to formal and up to 4IR?

The Chairperson asked what the labour sector was doing at Nedlac and government level in terms of participating on 4IR. What was being done by the labour sector to minimise the impact of 4IR on job losses?

The decolonisation of higher education was not sufficiently attended to today and the presenters did not touch on it adequately. Perhaps, this subject can be elevated and engaged on further because it remains an important issue in the higher education sector as well as in the curriculum.

Dr Visser appreciated the comments on decolonisation and suggested that we need to take on what is good for Africa from other countries’ technological advances. The most important thing is merging the developments happening in other countries with ‘Africanicity’ and utilise those technologies for the benefit of Africa. We need to highlight these and plan for them.

Important areas, renewable energy is important but all these things are complex. If you think about electric vehicles and its impact, there are whole production systems that need to change as well as new skills that need to be adopted. Secondly, we are moving into distributed energy production, even home based energy production. So we no longer necessarily going to rely on the large group systems that we have – this is another aspect that we have to consider. Then we have to consider that petroleum would be replaced as a major source of fuel for transport – then we would need to consider adapting existing infrastructure as well as labour in accommodating the new source of energy. With that are significant losses of government income to maintain our infrastructure. So then policies and governance around this issue to ensure that there is an alternative way to maintain the fiscus.

Every one of these things has huge degrees of complexities across an entire value chain and they cannot be thought in isolation. These require complex systems thinking.

Mr Parks, COSATU, replied that agriculture would be devastated by 4IR in terms of job losses and agriculture is one of the largest employment sectors. In the next 20 years agriculture is going to be automated and this has already been happening. Banks have probably retrenched about 1000 to 2000 workers in the past two years. The mining sector is going to be heavily impacted.  We can force these industries and sectors to beneficiate. The most important thing is that online learning would benefit people in rural areas. All unions across the world are battling with the changing environment and there are no simple answers to collective bargaining.

Labour submitted an economic strategy to National Treasury and highlighted concerns and the debate was welcomed because the economy is in a crisis. Hopefully, in October the strategy would be debated and discussed. Labour has been engaging in Nedlac and the Presidential Job Summit on just transitions in the different sectors of our economy that have had an impact on labour.

He said that there are huge opportunities in the electric vehicles sector which government can take advantage of. New jobs could be created and perhaps Eskom could be saved in the long term. If we do not do that we can say good bye to the auto manufacturing industry – which happened to Australia – and all the billions that government has spent via DTI on that industry would be wasted. What is most concerning is that government and the private sector are not moving fast enough in partnering in that industry. Companies like VW and Volvo are shifting towards electric vehicles in the next few years. China is already producing about 700 000 electric vehicles a year.

There are engagements with DTI, SACTU and the clothing industry on how to save and transition this industry.

Ms Nkume said that the Labour Relations Amendment Act [which came into effect on 1 January 2019] has the potential to diminish worker bargaining power. If workers want to negotiate their pay it would require the union to have a large number of workers that have agreed to a strike through a secret ballot.

Mr Moleko of SAFTU said that the critical issue was on the diminishing of worker bargaining powers. This changes the nature of employment relations. The best way for employees to bargain is to organise themselves and be under a union – this is becoming a nightmare due to our labour relations laws.

One does not have any obligation on the part of South African employers to bargain, that obligation is imposed by an agreement that a union would have to enter into with that sector or the employer. Collective bargaining is left to the power of the employment relations in that agreement. We are not one with COSATU on how the amendments were inflicted on workers’ rights to organise and bargain collectively and exercise the power to withdraw their labour.

People have been fed the narrative that the lost jobs would be replaced somewhere but we do not see that happening. He gave the example of the workers in the textile industry. SAFTU is not part of Nedlac and COSATU is aware of that. Nedlac is an important platform for social dialogue on employment and debate on macro-economic issues.

The Chairperson thanked everyone present.

The meeting was adjourned.

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