In conjunction with the centenary International Labour Conference the BWI launched a Scientific study on the “National and international impact of digitalisation on workers in construction” at a BWI Forum on the Future of Work on 17 June 2019, at the ILO in Geneva. The BWI in cooperation with the GBH of Austria and a number of BWI affiliates and partner organisations commissioned a team of researchers from the Institute for Interdisciplinary Construction Process Management of the Technical University of Vienna to prepare a study.
The study investigated the impact of digitalisation on the working environment of building sites, the roles of workers, foremen and supervisors, challenges and opportunities for those roles and the opportunities for the transformation process.
According to BWI General Secretary, Ambet Yuson, “The study should be seen as an opportunity to initiate dialogue at the domestic and international levels with the aim of introducing the necessary change. This requires both political will and a political framework. In order to guarantee these, it is essential that workers’ representatives develop strategies that emphasise the positive.”
Guided by the BWI Technical Ad Hoc Working Group on Future of Work and with inputs of BWI affiliates from more than ten countries, the study analyses the technological developments, changes in job profiles, working time, wages, tax systems, health and environment and identifies areas for action and recommendations.
Digital technologies are no longer purely supportive tools, they will affect all areas of operations of companies. The study explains the building information modelling (BIM), digitalisation of contracting and procurement, big data analyses and “common virtual work space”, for which new technologies at construction sites are being used, like brick laying robots, 3D printing, smart textiles with in-built sensors adapting their characteristics to the environment (E-gloves, etc.), hard hats within built-augmented reality hardware, connected to AR eye-wear, robotic arms up to humanoid robots. And all this with no drawings on site any longer, but with “real-time information” in the “common digital works space”.
The report highlights the importance of data protection and personal rights, as there are various sources for recording of personal data on equipment sensors, digital tracking data processed for Human Resources, thus the workers need to be able to determine what happens with their data to avoid future misuse. In terms of procurement, data handling requirements will change, and fairness must be ensured when awarding contracts.
While construction is one of the industries with lowest digitisation, technological innovation is now infusing new skills into the labour market as digital construction becomes essential.
In future, it is expected that the workforce will become more mobile and more women will work in the building industry and on sites. Workers in construction might work longer but most probably different, nevertheless skills shortage will increase.
One of the objectives of the BWI Forum on Future of Work is to discuss how trade unions can best equip themselves in ensuring a “human-centred” agenda that would actively include, as stipulated in the report of the ILO Global Commission on Future of Work, workers and their trade unions in the process of change.
For BWI and its affiliates, it has become increasingly important to ensure that just transition in the process of digitalisation is part of government policies that guaranty protection of workers’ rights, health and safety and to allow workers to have access to life-long learning and skills training.