Big Six Tech Companies must commit to decent work

Friday 7 April 2017

UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings calls on the Big Six Tech companies to commit to decent work in the brave new digital world and vows that unions will not be marginalised.

Speaking on the panel ‘Discussion on work and society’ at the ILO Global Dialogue on the Future of Work We Want today, UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings rallied support for the vital role unions will play in the Future World of Work. Jennings appealed directly to the Big Six Tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and IBM) to leave their ivory towers, come to the ILO and commit to decent work.

Jennings said, “We have never had this degree of concentration of power we see now with the Big Six  and their data ownership. Those who argue that economic power will undergo disintegration in the Future World of Work are mistaken. To quote Martin Luther King: Tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. The concentration of global economic power in the hands of a few, coupled with their control of vast swathes of our personal data, represents a significant and real threat.

“Workers have a right to decent work. We need to get the Big Six CEOs out of their swanky offices into the real world and demand their commitment to decent work throughout their value chains. Our task is to make sure that all workers, in all forms of employment have the same social and fundamental rights. The Big Six must be made to understand that the workers’ voice must be heard.”

Jennings dismissed claims that trade unions were not adaptable enough to face the challenges of a new world of work where many may not be employed traditionally.

“We are building unions in the Future World of Work and we will not be marginalized. We speak for all – the employed, the unemployed and the future workforce – and we are certain that unions will play a larger role in this brave new digital world.  We will stand up for the ‘digital sans-culottes’ – the working class people who must have their voice  heard.

“UNI and our partners have the vision to adapt our traditional values to the Future World of Work in the face of what is in reality old fashion monopoly capitalism. Unions will be more relevant than ever.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that unions are not prepared for change. Take for example UNI’s media affiliates in the United States who have successfully organised thousands of freelance creative talents, including screenwriters, actors, artists, musicians and technicians. The unions along with the ILO have set the global standards which allow these workers to flourish. Both the ILO and the European Union have created conventions and regulations governing temporary and part-time workers. It’s not a big ask to imagine digital workers similarly incorporated.

“The ILO is brilliantly placed to table the Future World of Work debate. The ILO’s centenary in 2019 is built around the future of work and it is the natural hub for all related issues. And the unions are the ILO’s natural partner in shaping the future world of work. The core union values of equality, justice and inclusion remain relevant and cover not only male and female workers, but the youth, the old and the unemployed.

“We cannot and will not accept a world of gross inequality and unfair distribution of wealth, where a South African retail worker, for example, must work 1,200 years to earn what the CEO earns in 12 months.”

Jennings also warned that an ethical convention on AI was essential and called for the ILO’s backing. Referencing Asimov’s First Law that a robot may not injure a human being, Jennings launched the concept of a new algorithm ‘AI8798’, programmed to the put the question is the company’s digital robotic workforce compliant with the ILO Conventions 87 & 98.

“This is not science-fiction, we are on the path to creating robots with the physical and cognitive powers to outstrip the human-race. This has profound implications in the workplace and beyond. The ‘aliens’ will be among us.  Now is the time for action.”

The UNI General Secretary concluded his remarks on a positive note urging the ILO forward and offering UNI’s unequivocal support.

“George Bernard Shaw said: You see things and say why? but I dream things that never were and say Why Not. Let this be the ILO’s Why Not moment.”