Robots Love it When Humans Strike

As I write today’s Money Morning I’m 35,000 feet up in the air. I’m in the early stages of transit back to Australia. I took off from Manchester Airport and, according to our current flight path, Kuwait City is somewhere below. Next stop Abu Dhabi. Quick layover, then on to Perth and Melbourne.

Surprisingly, Manchester Airport wasn’t that hectic considering the Brussels attack. There were definitely extra armed police around. But I guess Manchurians aren’t exactly a major target for Islamic extremists.

Whether I make it out at Melbourne is a different questions though. According to the Australian Border Control website there’s a 24 hour strike on Thursday. It’s nationwide. The impact is intended to be felt across the country.

Who can we thank for this strike? The Community and Public Sector Union. I was thinking about unions last night. I thought to myself, do I have a union? Who represents my rights? And then I remembered I do have a union, I think it’s the Financial Sector Union. Unfortunately for the FSU, they’ve got about as much bargaining power as a toddler at Dan Murphy’s.

So who represents my rights? I do. I don’t get the luxury of walking off on the job and going on strike. I do that and I get the sack. I don’t even need to question Kris’ response if I said I’m going on strike. He’d say, ‘Fine, good luck at your next job,’ and then start looking for my replacement.

Of course I’m not going on strike. I love what I do, and Port Phillip Publishing is a fantastic company to work for. But my entire career I’ve worked in a free market. My bargaining power starts and stops with me. The onus is on me, my ability to get the job done and how valuable I can make myself. The moment I’m not adding value, not performing as expected, not doing my job, I’m out the door. That’s how a free market works. That’s how an efficient job market should work.

Instead — particularly in Australia — the labour market is severely influenced by unions. Of course, Australia isn’t the only place in the world where unions love nothing more than a walk-off. France is notorious for it. Just last week they had a three day strike across their major airports. It caused chaos among European travellers.

Needless to say, I’m not a big fan of unions or strikes. And I’m none too impressed they choose to do it on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. Of course they chose these dates for maximum impact. But in my view the CPSU can bugger off.

Strike and watch the robots take over

The more I thought about this strike the more I realised the only real damage being done here by the union is to their own members. And then I started to feel a little sorry for the workers. Blindly following their union is leading them down a garden path where eventually the government will simply replace them all.

But not with new employees. Not even humans. Nope. In a few years’ time there won’t be a need for strike action. Because you can’t strike when you’ve got no members.

I had a quick look on the government travel website. And there it was in all its beautiful technological glory. Smartgates.

You see, if you’ve done any international travel recently you’ll note on arrival back to Australia there are these large, gate style things at border control. Like a big row of gates you might find at a train station. Except these Smartgates are packed with technology. They’ve got cameras, high speed connectivity and facial recognition.

When getting off the plane I can simply scan my passport in a machine. This prints me off a ticket. I take this ticket to the smartgate and put it in. I then stand tall and look into the camera as it adjusts to my height. Then with facial recognition technology it matches my face to that in my passport.

Without too much fuss I get the green light and I’m through customs. These machines make clearing the border a breeze. Last time I was in Melbourne I vaguely remember seeing about 10 of them. I can picture a time very soon when there will be 30 of them — maybe more.

Everyone with a ‘chipped’ passport can use them to get through nice and quickly. The beauty of these Smartgates is they don’t take shifts. They don’t need toilet breaks. They don’t need annual leave, maternity or paternity leave. They work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round. They don’t complain, they don’t ask for wages, and they don’t walk off the job.

I’m seeing more and more Smartgates at airports around the world. And it makes sense. One of the banes of any traveller is an ungodly queue at customs. Smartgates eliminate this problem. Of course they’ll break down from time to time. But then you have private companies employing workers on the free labour market to come in and fix them.

If I was the government I’d simply invest in a heap more Smartgates. But what about the workers you say? Redeploy them. Don’t renew their contracts. Offer voluntary redundancies.

You’ve been warned, so don’t say you didn’t see it coming

The whole world is undergoing change thanks to new technologies. It’s going to cost jobs. There is no escaping that at all. The whole world is turning to automation and automated systems like the smartgates to make everything work better. It’s happening in computing, marketing, construction, transport & logistics, even the financial sector. So why should it be any different for the public sector?

This might sound harsh, but there’s every chance one day an automated system could take my job. It’s a threat I’m going to have to contend with. I’ll just have to find something else to do I guess, if that day comes — we all will.

But going on strike isn’t going to help. It won’t help get better conditions if those jobs no longer exist. If anything it will just speed up the change to robotics and automated systems replacing the workers.

Times are changing, and you better be ready for it. I’ve been warning people for years now. So don’t say its news to you. Automated systems and robotics are coming for your job. You better figure out how else to make your dough. One way is to invest in the companies building and developing these automated systems. The opportunities they present now for investors are once in a lifetime.

The other outcome is to get some new skills. Maybe programming, robotics, mechanical maintenance — something that might be relevant in 10 years’ time.



PS: The Port Phillip Publishing office will be closed over the Easter long weekend. You’ll hear from us in Money Morning again on Tuesday.

Sam Volkering is an Editor for Money Morning and is small-cap, cryptocurrency and technology expert.

He’s not interested in boring blue chip stocks. He’s after explosive investments; companies whose shares trade for cents on the dollar, cryptocurrencies that can deliver life-changing returns. He looks for the ‘edge of the bell curve’ opportunities that are often shunned by those in the financial services industry.

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