The South Korean union for automaker Hyundai has formally requested that jobs be protected against the introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence at manufacturing facilities.
In a newsletter to members, the union addressed concerns that automotive manufacturing jobs are at risk due to technological advances, which include automating specific functions with robots, possibly controlled by AI, as well as the advent of electric vehicles.
“Considerable parts of the car industry have been outsourced and modularized so far,” the newsletter states. “As our job security is expected to severely worsen due to industrial development, we have decided to demand management take appropriate measures.”
The union is seeking security for jobs which are among the best-paying in the country. Hyundai Motors made the list of the top ten best-paying employers in South Korea in 2016, with an average salary of $83,333 USD.
Robotics and artificial intelligence are not the only technological advances that have put auto manufacturing plant employees at risk. The introduction of electric vehicles is expected to change the face of auto manufacturing, as electric vehicles are much easier and cheaper to build than traditional gas-powered, internal combustion vehicles.
For example, last October, Volkswagen announced that it would be cutting jobs with numbers climbing from a few hundred to five digits, as electric vehicles require fewer components, and therefore fewer long-term employees are required for production.
Earlier this month, a committee was formed by Hyundai, with members drawn from both labor and management, to investigate the question of whether jobs will be threatened by the production of eco-friendly cars.
This is particularly relevant for the Hyundai union, as the automaker launched new models of its Grandeur and FE Cell hybrid vehicles this week at the Seoul Motor Show, citing an anticipated growth in demand for hybrid and electric vehicles in South Korea.
The company also announced that it is currently working on the development of its first dedicated architecture for electric vehicles. Small electric SUVs could be available to consumers as soon as early 2018.
The company’s response to the union’s demands, however, was critical. A spokesperson for the company said that the stated concern with technological advancements was merely a ‘plausible excuse’ to make demands of management, adding, “The union has always asked the company for perfect job security, which we can hardly accept.”
Critics are concerned that demands for job security, which were combined with requests to extend the retirement age from 60 to 64 and a 7% increase in base salary, could prompt the company to move manufacturing overseas.