Technology is evolving at a rapid pace, informing how we live, work and interact with the world. And the next stage of this evolution – known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – is set to bring even more dramatic shifts to our society.
“What will this mean for the world of work?” asks Parusha Bachan, Legal Content Manager, LexisNexis South Africa. “Change on the technology front brings both opportunities and threats. It will have an impact on how we work and how businesses function.”
“Product development and innovation, customer expectations and the operation and management of organisations will all be affected by new technologies and enhanced digital capabilities. Opportunities such as the increased availability of information, especially online, and faster processing will need to be balanced against threats that include job losses, invasion of privacy and the use of personal information,” Bachan says.
Mike Beaumont, author of Beaumont’s Service, a labour law product that provides solutions to everyday labour issues, referring to the March 2019 NEDLAC report which is based on research by the Institute for Futures Research¹, Stellenbosch University says that local workplaces will be materially disrupted by the 4IR with shorter supply chains and more direct customer engagement equalling job creation and loss as roles change. “Retrenchments are likely to occur more often, with the onus resting on employers to timeously inform employees of potential retrenchments and provide opportunities to up-skill or re-train. Job security will need to be promoted through maintaining skills and effective change management.”
With change being inevitable, employers will need to work to proactively develop an empowered, innovative workforce that is multi-skilled, eager to engage with the opportunities presented by 4IR and committed to upskilling. This will guard against talent shortages, unemployment and growing inequality.
Beaumont refers to the Labour Court judgment in FAWU and others v SA Breweries Ltd  11 BALR 1093 (LC), which stated the following in considering the fairness of retrenchments brought about by the introduction of world-class manufacturing:
“… [T]he employer is to make its position clear to all affected employees at the earliest possible opportunity. After all, if the company wished to give all employees a fair chance to retain their employment in the restructured workplace, it was duty bound, in my view, to inform them in clear and unequivocal terms of the inadequacy of their qualifications and to provide reasonable means for those employees to obtain the requisite levels of competence”.
“Adapting to a new world of work can be a cause for concern for organisations, no matter the size or industry,” says Bachan. “4IR is already impacting the daily management and structure of workplaces. In 2020 all corporate stakeholders are sure to find themselves negotiating new ground.”
Bachan says this will include:
• The need for implementation of the correct human resources policies and procedures as concerns around retrenchment and role development increase.
• Compliance concerns regarding the protection of personal data or the automatic, and therefore possibly discriminatory, allocation of roles and responsibilities.
• Development of new markets as a result of technological innovation that calls for legal expertise in negotiating new industrial relations landscapes and mitigating potential risks.
• The need to learn new legal information without delay, work strategically and have easy access to accurate, on-point legal insights, preferably online.
• The need to keep abreast of evolving developments at the CCMA, Arbitration Bodies and relevant Judicial Systems is ever-present.
“By harnessing the power of digital, business owners, HR practitioners, compliance professionals and stakeholders can have access to relevant information from legal to HR to tax, including workplace performance, corporate governance and finance concerns and regulatory alerts,” says Bachan. “This will alter the way in which corporates and organisations, big and small, engage with and use legal information.”
For more information on how to help your business navigate legal information in the 4IR visit Lexis Library.
About Mike Beaumont
Mike Beaumont, a lawyer by profession, is the founder and author of Beaumont’s Express (a commentary on Labour Relations and the Law) published by LexisNexis. He has consulted with blue chip clients in a variety of industries in the private sector in South Africa, neighbouring African countries and the Middle East.