A woman uses a cutting machine in a factory. Many traditional manual industrial jobs have been replaced by robotic processes
Recent PwC forecasts predicted that around a third of UK jobs risked being lost over the coming 15 years because of the robotisation of work. And it is not just manual jobs that are at risk, even economists reportedly have a 43% risk of being made redundant by robots. So, should Luxembourg be worried?
“I think for now it shows there is an enormous amount of uncertainty on the subject,” LSAP MP and lawyer Franz Fayot said during a debate organised by Luxembourg think tank the Idea Foundation on Wednesday. “Things are in the process of being robotised. But, to have a profession completely disappear, that’s something else. The human added value will be more marked in certain jobs but parts of a lawyer’s job could even be robotised.”
Jean-Jacques Rommes, head of the business association (UEL), said he was not afraid that jobs would disappear and pointed out that, on the contrary, Luxembourg generates 3% new jobs annually. If anything, the main problems it faces are finding the talent to fill the roles, convincing them to come to Luxembourg, and providing sufficient housing and infrastructure for them.
Rommes pointed to the evolution of jobs over the past five centuries, but acknowledged that uncertainty may arise from the pace of technological change and advances, which mean that we cannot even predict what jobs tomorrow’s workforce will do. The debate touched on the issue of social inequalities that may be created when people are unable to keep step with the changes—Fayot alluded to a recent petition submitted to the parliament, which had garnered over 10,000 signatures and called for a reduction in bank transfer fees for people who do not use online banking. This, he said, was an example of a group of people that was being discriminated against, because they had not been able to keep up with technological advances by not having computer, or computer skills.
A digitised society founded around the internet of things is an ambition that was outlined in the Third Industrial Revolution (TIR), further details on which will be unveiled on Thursday. The TIR report fails to address questions about what kind of jobs will exist in future, yet does address productivity and the need to create greater wealth through fewer jobs thanks to robotisation.
The two speakers acknowledged that robotising jobs will create inequalities between the skilled and unskilled labour force.
But an equally pressing question connected to this is that with fewer workers paying taxes, how will the State fill its coffers and foot the bill of social security and pensions? Fayot suggested a robot tax, while Rommes said the government would have to be more productive, spend less and find other revenue sources, perhaps more through the side of consumer taxes so that "the problem of international fiscal competition" is less of an issue.