Cobots and Decent WorkPUBLICATION DATE: 2 February, 2023 PUBLICATION AUTHOR/S: Laundon, M
The use of cobots (collaborative robots) is expanding in industrial settings. Differing from traditional robots by requiring close human proximity and the use of inimitable human skills by an operator, cobots have important implications for worker identity, voice, safety and diversity. This conceptual study investigates the implications of cobots for decent work, using the four pillars of decent work (employment creation, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue) as a framework to highlight the need for employment relations perspectives on cobots.
The business case for robots is usually framed as increasing productivity and reducing staff costs. However, cobots may facilitate innovation and job creation (Acemoglu & Restrepo, 2019). Cobots have the potential to extend social protection by improving inclusion. They can be used to do the parts of a job that are dangerous or require high levels of physical strength, opening roles to diverse workers. Cobots may improve safety by reducing or easing undesirable, difficult or unsafe tasks, as well as those that are boring and repetitive, thereby reducing injury and increasing opportunities for meaningful and interesting work (Gualtieri et al., 2021). However, safety concerns about cobots and fears of cobots supplanting workers can affect worker wellbeing and identity (Smids et al, 2020). The impact of cobots on rights at work is largely unexamined.
However, the literature on employee voice in relation to robot adoption provides some salient insights. Social dialogue is central to successful adoption of cobots, as they require the workers to accept cobots as co-workers sharing activities and workspaces.
- Acemoglu, D., & Restrepo, P. (2019). Automation and new tasks: How technology displaces and reinstates labor. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33(2), 3-30.
- Belloc, F., Burdin, G., & Landini, F. (2020). Robots and Worker Voice: An Empirical Exploration. IZA Discussion Paper No. 13799, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
- Gualtieri, L., Rauch, E., & Vidoni, R. (2021). Emerging research fields in safety and ergonomics in industrial collaborative robotics: A systematic literature review. Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, 67, 101998.
- Smids, J., Nyholm, S., & Berkers, H. (2020). Robots in the workplace: a threat to—or opportunity for—meaningful work?. Philosophy & Technology, 33(3), 503-522
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