Unite’s policy conference heard from delegates today (July 4) who have already been affected by a growing tide of automation.
Speaking in favour of a motion to further Unite’s policies on automation and the digital economy, the delegates were clear that the union needs to build on its current work around the issues in order to mitigate the dangers of Industry 4.0 to workers and grasp its benefits.
Eddie Stobart worker Matthew Brown, from the West Midlands, described a new hub that the firm will be opening, which he said was a “stark” example of the effects of automation.
Brown said, “It is a fully automated site. There will be no people moving from our site just a few miles up the road to the new site – that’s automation for you.”
Lorry driver Kevin Terry, from the South West, explained that automation also poses problems for the transport industry.
He said, “I drive a (44 tonne lorry) and it’s automated. The truck will tell me if I’m wondering on to the left or the right. I put it into automatic drive and set the speed control and that’s it. All I do is sit and steer it, the vehicle tells me everything else and the manager knows exactly what I’m doing because I’m tracked.
“They’re building smart motorways with WIFI built in so they can bring in the platooning of lorries. So you have up to six lorries at a time, with one vehicle at the front controlling the others behind. This is to save the companies money. It’s been hinted to us that they’re going to be saying that ‘whilst the other five drivers are sat behind we don’t have to pay them a driver’s wage’.
Finance worker Sally Pirrie (pictured) told conference that “we can’t stop automation but we can work with it.
“When I started working in (cheque clearing) there were lots and lots of sites. When I became a seconded rep there were 15 sites. This year there will be one site that will receive images from automated cheque clearing machines within branches,” Pirrie said.
“We all need to attend Unite’s automation workshops. All of us in this room are going to be affected by this at some time and all we will be left with is the mucky jobs if we don’t work together.”
Conference voted unanimously in favour of the motion.