Now is the time to shape the transport industry’s future

Now is the time to shape the transport industry’s future

A new report into Australia’s $80 billion transport industry urges vigilance from its leaders to maintain its health, amid the looming disruption of automation and the rise of the gig economy.

The Future of Transportation Work: Technology, Work Organisation, and the Quality of Jobs by Dr Jim Stanford, from The Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute outlines transport’s critical economic importance: the industry employs 625,000 people, paying more than $45 billion in wages and $25 billion in taxes.

The ninth largest employer in Australia, transport’s broader economic spin off benefits are worth at least as much as the industry itself.

However, the authors warn that twin headwinds of automation and the gig economy could threaten transport’s capacity to provide quality jobs. The industry’s workforce is largely older, male and highly skilled, though few have formal qualifications

The report suggests that with appropriate planning and cooperation, the industry can integrate new technologies and new forms of work organisation while still ensuring its economic and social benefits are shared equitably and sustainably, with an emphasis on safety, training, career-progression and proper retirement planning.

However, there is also a risk the transport sector could move instead towards a lowest-common denominator ‘gig’ jobs approach, characterised by insecure work, underemployment, and weaker safety standards.

Already, technology platforms and lax labour regulations are enabling the growth of ‘informal transportation activities’ – such as the movement of goods by individuals. A person can register online and become a carrier without the safety and security regimes that quality transport businesses take seriously.

Economists Jim Stanford and Matt Grudnoff were commissioned by TWUSUPER to assess the impact of rapid technological change and digital disruption on this key sector of the economy.

“The general future for Australian transport is bright, and demand for services in Australia will almost certainly outpace growth in the wider economy,” Dr Stanford said.

“However, there are some worrying trends. In particular, the trend toward non-standard or precarious forms of work and employment in the industry could threaten both livelihoods and the quality of services.

“This is likely to pose a bigger threat to quality transport jobs in the medium-term than automation and new technology (like driverless vehicles, machine-learning and big data). While new technology will certainly have an impact over the next two decades, it’s unlikely to result in mass job losses in the near term.

“Many barriers will slow automation of transport, including the need for appropriate regulation, investments in infrastructure, proof of safety, capital investment lag times and insurance. The extreme pessimism of some forecasts of mass technological unemployment in the sector, and across the economy as a whole, are not credible, and should not guide the sector’s planning and preparations.”

TWUSUPER CEO Frank Sandy said The Future of Transportation Work provided a compelling argument for a planned approach by the transport industry, other stakeholders and government.

“We commissioned the report mostly to help us plan for the future, but we also recognise the need to understand the potential for disruption, which can impact on the businesses and the people we serve,” Mr Sandy said.

“There are potential flow-on impacts if the ‘gig’ economy disrupts business models and full-time jobs. Apart from safety and security issues, we could find ourselves in a position where many more Australians are not adequately insured or prepared for retirement due to by-passing of our superannuation guarantee system.”

The report is available at this link.

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