There’s a lot to reflect on as Labour Day approaches

The rains are finally here all over East Africa and even more. Probably for the first time in my lifetime words like cyclone are being used in reference to East Africa.

There was talk of cyclone Kenneth heading for the Tanzanian coast with potential to wreak havoc, almost similar to what cyclone Idai did to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe about a month ago. These are things we struggled to understand in school because they hardly ever hit close by. I guess we have no option but to pay more attention to climate change.

Speaking of changes, the International Labour Day that falls on the first day of the month of May, is around the corner and while many will be glad to get a day to rest in the middle of the week I think more people ought to spend it reflecting on several issues about what labour means today in this fast changing world of work.

These reflections like the day should have a global perspective because we are now living in a global village that is so interconnected thanks to technology.

The labour landscape is undergoing lots of transformations today than ever before. Governments are no longer just struggling with creating jobs but also understanding what a job is.

Just before writing about this I was reading about how governments in Africa are increasingly calling for the regulation and taxation of the world’s leading accommodation-sharing site, AirBnB. AirBnB belongs to what has been called the sharing economy. 

The sharing economy emerged from the use of technology to find a solution to resources that were not being used optimally. You have a big house with an empty room that you only use to store the junk that you are not brave enough to throw away, why not turn it into a room that can be used by someone who has failed to find a hotel room during a busy conference season?

Taxi hailing apps like Uber, Lyft, Move, Safe Boda and so many others, are all built on the same logic.

Such innovations have led to the need to rethink our understanding of the labourers in this kind of economy. Are they really labouring or simply using apps to provide a service? Do we describe what they do as work or merely a gig?

Does the nomenclature affect how we treat them? Should they be celebrating Labour Day with everyone else or they should be looking out for the gigs they can do on that day.

Since education is primarily about preparing young people to be productive, is it designed to create worthy workers for the gig economy? The gig economy refers to a free market system where temporary positions are common. Here you have organisations offering short term engagements to skilled people.

They are sometimes called freelancers but with technology they are becoming more and more common. How should labour policy makers cater for these people who are often entitled to almost nothing besides the wages for the job assigned.

What about the fact that those are the forefront of the tech revolution are now talking about things like Artificial Intelligence (AI), and robots? Are robots going to replace human beings everywhere? Governments have for years struggled to create jobs and bragged about those they manage to create. Are we prepared for a world where technology means the disappearance of many jobs thanks to automation and robots?

Take the example of the driverless cars that are being tested almost by everyone in the tech and automobile industry. Have we thought about what this will mean for car ownership, car insurance, city council parking revenues and the noble job of a driver? 

There are some entire professions that are on line now with the trend of AI. When do we start advising young people not to pursue careers that will soon disappear?

Another important issue worth reflecting on could be our demographic concerns. Some places have many young people while others have more old people that the state is even struggling to pay pensions too so they are kept in service much longer.

How do we reconcile the current need for one to be multi-skilled before getting a job and yet at the same time, jobs are diminishing and evolving so fast? As we celebrate International Labour Day, we ought to think more about how the world of work is evolving and whether we are equipped to adapt and prepare others coming after us.

Email: ssenyonga@gmail.com

Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com

Twitter: @ssojo81

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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