Delegates say 4IR should not be used for profits

Farmworkers see the 4IR as a threat where farm owners see efficiency gains. Archive photo by Mzi Velapi

On the last day of the farmworkers conference at the UWC, the farmworkers warned against the use of technology for super-profits.

The farmworkers’ conference at the University of the Western Cape concluded with delegates saying that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) should not replace workers and be driven by profit-making. Farmworkers and farmworker unions and organisations have been part of the three-day conference that ended on Friday. The last day of the conference focused on what the future of the agrarian sector looks like, and this included discussions on the impact of the 4IR – of artificial intelligence and robots – on agriculture.

Dave Pons, a farmer and a lecturer at the Mangosuthu University of Technology, said that the 4IR cannot be avoided and some technological advances will inevitably be used for its efficiency but that technology itself needs workers to work.

Dan Mbelwane from the South African Clothing and Textile Workers (SACTWU) said that the focus on efficiency is a warning to workers. “The technology would give them another avenue to make super-profits at the expense of workers. The government should regulate the 4IR to make sure that it creates new jobs or revitalises the current ones,” said Mbelwane.

SACTWU has been organising farmworkers since the Food and Allied Workers Union left the Congress of South African Trade Union to join the rival trade union federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions.

Carmen Louw from Women On Farms said that drones are now used on farms to monitor the workers and has a negative effect on their privacy. “We see the drones being used to monitor the workers and women workers have complained about the drones flying over them as they relieve themselves in the bushes as there are no toilets in the vineyards,” said Louw.

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“We are also seeing that computer coding that is being introduced in schools is directed at boy children and that is wrong,” she said.

One of the solutions forwarded by Tendai Chiguware from the University of Fort Hare is for the government to offer training programmes aimed at up-skilling farmworkers. “Farmworkers should be trained in soft skills and there should be a basic coding curriculum for farmworkers and for young people working on farms,” said Chiguware.

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