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Digital jobs in a digital age?

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Will robots take our jobs? Not necessarily, according to a Welsh Government review that was published today.

In some ways, this sounds familiar.

Take retail, for example. Shop workers already have few opportunities to progress within their sector, so those well-paid jobs already feel unattainable.

And some employers are using technology to improve working conditions, and others use it to simply drive down staff costs or introduce Big Brother-style monitoring of employees.

Because technology isn’t neutral for workers. It can displace people, raise stress levels and take creativity out of a role.

That’s why we want workers to be heard when new technologies are being introduced. We want them to shape its introduction so that it works for them and their employers.

Collective voice is just as important now as it has ever been.

At the TUC’s Congress earlier this month, unions agreed that the introduction of technology is a collective bargaining issue.

We want our fair share of the gains of digitisation, including a four-day week and a slowdown in the intensification of work. Workers will shape the introduction of technology just as we’ve shaped pay policy and the length of the working day.

Where workers are already bargaining over technology, the gains are impressive. Collective agreements have protected jobs and reduced the length of the working week. Last year, the Wales Union Learning Fund trained thousands of workers in digital skills.

And we also need to explore what more we could be doing with our collective power.

We need to consider how jobs are constructed – how different skills, including those which are less vulnerable to automation, are valued; what training is most important as new technologies are introduced; and how we can address existing inequalities such as the gender pay gap with our approach.

Professor Brown’s report isn’t just for government, but for unions and employers too.

Making work fairer is key to a just transition as employers embrace new technologies. So perhaps we don’t have to fear robots taking our jobs, but we should fear not having a say over it.