Robots Threatening the Asia Labor Market

Robots Threatening the Asia Labor Market
Photo Credit: Corbis/達志影像

Compiled and translated by Yuan-ling Liang

The rapid rise of robots in manufacturing has seen 60,000 workers lose their jobs at a single Foxconn site in China.

Foxconn Technology Group, an Apple component supplier, is reported to have laid off more than half of its factory workers, and it seems that Foxconn is not the only company that plans to do so.

Last year, a survey conducted by the Kunshan Economic And Information Technology Commission of more than 100 manufacturing companies in the region showed that at least half of the more than 100 of the manufacturing companies in the region were leaning towards following suit. The Kunshan government also promised to provide funding to these companies to encourage the development of robots.

Labor costs and product quality are believed to be two main reasons behind the trend. About 95% of the manufacturing businesses in Kunshan are either owned or partly funded by foreign corporations and they all seek lower costs.

Repetitive tasks to be replaced

Foxconn told BBC that robotic arms are cheap and efficient.

"We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China."

The company also said that its employees will be able to focus more on research and development rather than repetitive tasks.

Adidas has also been reported to face similar labor cost issues and will start manufacturing shoes in southern Germany with robots by 2017. However, Adidas told The Guardian that it will not replace the Asian workforce immediately and its goal isn’t full automatization.

While companies are saying there won’t be a huge cut in the labor market, a UK survey shows that 35% of all occupations will be taken over by robots in the next 20 years. Jobs including the telephone salesperson, weigher, grader, sorter, routine inspector and product tester in manufacturing companies will all be replaced.

Taiwan one of the fastest to replace laborers with robots

According to an International Federation of Robotics (IFR) research, of the world’s 25 largest industrial product export economies, Taiwan and South Korea are among the fastest developers of automatic productions lines due to higher labor costs in both countries.

While labor wages in China are relatively low, its transformation to automation is also rapid. Many believe as labor costs continue to lift and amid an aging Chinese population, developing automatic manufacturing will become urgent to relieve labor pressure.

Yang Tzu-pao (楊子葆), assistant manager of China Airlines, points out that many jobs may be replaced by robots within seven years, so people should start learning how to work with robots.

According to Yang, China Airlines already uses two robots to search for customer feedback online.

Yang thinks that cultural background is the only thing that robots can’t replace. And therefore people should focus more on the cultural and creative industries.

Edited by Olivia Yang


Sources:
South China Morning Post: Rise of the robots: 60,000 workers culled from just one factory as China’s struggling electronics hub turns to artificial intelligence
PJTime
RFI
BBC: Foxconn axes 60,000 jobs in one Chinese factory as robots take over
Digital Trends: Your next pair of Adidas sneakers could be made by robots
Guardian: Reboot: Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots
Huffington Post: It May Surprise You Which Countries Are Replacing Workers With Robots the Fastest
UDN
China Times