More and more jobs are at risk of being outsourced to a cheaper and more efficient robot. Is your job one of them – and if so, will a universal basic income (UBI) prove to be the panacea for increased automation?
Many or most of us wish we could work shorter hours and have more time for family, friends and fun. The struggle to reduce the working day spans several generations. In the 19th century our ancestors, fighting tooth-and-nail with banner in hand, won several victories.
Following the February 1848 Revolution in France, the nation’s working day was capped at 12 hours. Four years earlier in the UK, the British Factory Act had reduced the maximum working day to 12 hours for adults and 6.5 hours for children. In 1868 the US congress approved an “Eight Hour Work Day for Employees of the Government of the United States” and following the two revolutions of 1917, Russia’s new authorities reduced the working day to eight hours and introduced both pensions and unemployment pay. Other governments have followed suit over the past century and many countries now have laws limiting the official working week for most jobs to around 40 hours.
Alongside the battle to reduce daily working hours, over the past two centuries workers have also fought a struggle to safeguard their jobs and livelihoods in the face of increased mechanization.
In the early 19th century groups of craftsmen and workers, known as Luddites, smashed newly developed factory machines which they feared would make their craft redundant and force unemployment upon them. Over the past several decades, advancements in electronics and computing have revolutionized the working world, creating new jobs and industries.
However, the onward march of technology has trampled on the manufacturing industries of Europe and North America, causing the loss of millions of jobs as humans become replaced with cheaper and more efficient robots who work longer hours and don’t require holidays, sick pay or pensions. In the decade between 2000-2010, in the US alone jobs in the manufacturing industry declined by 5.6 million. However, output increased as the vast majority of job losses were due to automation rather than international trade agreements.