Ramaphosa warns workers to prepare for mechanisation storm

Cape Town - South African workers need to be ready to face the “storm” of mechanisation and new technology that could lead to job losses, according to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

He was answering questions on the economy in the National Assembly on Wednesday. 

On a question by Economic Freedom Fighters MP Reneilwe Mashabela about jobless growth, where companies replace workers with machines, Ramaphosa said this is a “global problem” that has to be faced. 

Mashabela said a trend of machines replacing workers is taking place in South African economic sectors including manufacturing, mining, agriculture and service industries. 

“The issue of job losses given rise by technological advances where machines replace workers is a matter of concern to all of us,” said Ramaphosa. 

He said this is an “age old problem”. 

“We saw it as industrialisation started speeding up, and in a number of sectors in our economy we have seen how workers have lost jobs to machines.”

Jobless growth

Ramaphosa was speaking two days after the release of new economic data by Statistics South Africa, which showed that the country's gross domestic product increased by 2.5% in the second quarter of 2017, with particularly strong growth in agriculture.

But as Statistician General Pali Lehohla noted at the time, this growth did not contribute significantly to the number of people employed because of mechanisation.

Ramaphosa said that robots replacing workers is a global trend. 

“We have to be ahead of the curve. We have to, as a developing economy, find ways in which we can keep our people in jobs."

According to Stats SA’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey, the country’s unemployment rate is 27.7%.

Ramaphosa said it is important to safeguard jobs against future mechanisation by creating “smart” employment opportunities. 

“We should be able to ensure that our workers are so well trained, and so well prepared, that we will be able to absorb this storm that is coming. 

"It is going to come, and the fourth industrial revolution is going to be driven by machines and new technology.” 

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