The risk of workers in developing economies, including the Philippines, being displaced by robot-based automation of manufacturing processes remains to be low, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (Unctad) 2017 Trade and Development Report.
In the Trade and Development Report 2017, with the theme “Beyond Austerity: Towards a Global New Deal”, the impact of growing automation via robots on industries, specifically in manufacturing, presents a complex picture.
Routine tasks in well-paying manufacturing and service jobs are being replaced by robots, according to the report, but low-wage manufacturing jobs in areas such as clothing factories are left largely unaffected by automation.
On a global scale, the use of industrial robots in terms of accumulation and installation is still minimal, and is still concentrated in developed economies.
“Currently the use of industrial robots globally remains quite small, only around 1.6 million in 2015,” the Unctad report read.
Developed countries accounted for 60 percent of the stock in 2015, with just three countries—Germany, Japan and the United States—making up 43 percent. Deployment of robots is seen as “more rapid” in developing economies, but this has mostly been due to China.
All developing countries, including the Philippines, accounted for less than 7 percent of the global stock of industrial robots in 2015.
The use of industrial robots is also heavily concentrated in just five sectors: the automotive industry that accounted for 40 percent to 45 percent of annual deployment between 2010 and 2015, followed by computers and electronic equipment, electrical equipment, appliances and components; closely followed by the group of rubber, plastic and chemical products, and by machinery.
Robot density, another indicator pertaining to the number of industrial robots in manufacturing per manufacturing employee, is highest in developed countries and developing countries at mature stages of industrialization; but this still excludes the Philippines.
Even if the estimated share in manufacturing employment of the top two sectors highly exposed to automation—automotive industry and computers and electronic equipment—is relatively high at 40 percent, the fact that the Philippines’s manufacturing sector still accounts for less than 10 percent of the total country’s work force shields it from vulnerability to robot-based automation.
The Philippines’s robot density is seen at less than 50 per 10,000 employees.
“Most existing studies overestimate the potential adverse employment and income effects of robots, because they neglect to take into account that what is technically feasible is not always also economically profitable,” the report said.
“The countries currently most exposed to robot-based automation are those with a large and well-paying manufacturing sector. Robotization has had a small effect on most developing countries, where mechanization continues to be the predominant form of automation,” it added.