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A new report published by the TUC today (Monday) argues that the economic gains from digitisation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) should be used to benefit working people, for example by reversing policies to raise the state pension age.

The report Shaping Our Digital Future explores how the next technological revolution will impact on jobs and wages. Previous waves of technological change have not led to an overall loss of jobs, but have disrupted the types of job people do. And with the most recent wave of industrial change, rewards from higher productivity have gone predominantly to business owners, rather than being shared across the workforce through better wages and working conditions.

For example, in 1950 almost one in three workers worked in manufacturing, while one in 12 worked in professional and technical services. By 2016 these shares had reversed. But the jobs lost in manufacturing were not replaced by jobs of similar or better quality in the communities affected. Wages in former industrial areas are still 10% below the national average.

The TUC says that the government, business and trade unions must work together to mitigate disruption to working people’s lives, and to maximise opportunities for working people to benefit. And with two-thirds of the 2030 workforce already in work today, efforts must focus on ensuring that existing workers are equipped to deal with the change.

Ideas from the report for how the benefits could be shared with workers include:

  • Using income gains from higher productivity to stop planned increases in the state pension age, set to affect millions of people in their 40s.
  • Giving everyone the right to a mid-life career review, and stepping up the investment in workplace training to the EU average – at present the UK invests just half.
  • Giving more workers the opportunity through collective bargaining to gain a share of the economic gains technology brings through wage increases.
With the UK failing to make productivity gains in the last decade, we need to make the most of the economic opportunities that new technologies are offering. Robots and AI could let us produce more for less, boosting national prosperity. But we need a debate about who benefits from this wealth, and how workers get a fair share.
We should look on the changes ahead as an opportunity to improve the lives of working people and their families. The government could use the revenue generated to reverse policies to raise the state pension age. And businesses could use productivity gains to improve the pay and conditions of workers.
Robots are not just terminators. Some of today’s jobs will not survive, but new jobs will be created. We must make sure that tomorrow’s jobs are no worse than today’s. They must provide fulfilling work, with good pay and conditions. And there must be funding to train people for new work if their job is made obsolete.
Editors note

- The full report Shaping Our Digital Future can be found here:

- Alongside the report, the TUC is publishing a companion paper, Universal basic income and the future of work. The paper was written for the TUC by the Fabian Society, and it examines the case for a Universal Basic Income, which some have argued is a potential response to automation making some jobs obsolete. However, the report concludes that there are as many potential problems from UBI as potential benefits, and that it is more important to focus on immediate policy responses to problems that are widespread in the workforce like job insecurity, income inequality, and low pay. The full report can be found here:

- The report notes that at present, the promised productivity gains from new technology have yet to appear. But analysis by PwC quoted in the report suggests that GDP could be 10% higher in 2030 as a consequence of productivity gains from AI. By contrast analysis by the OBR and DWP suggests that for each year that the state retirement age is raised, 0.3% GDP is saved in state pension expenditure, and 1% more GDP is generated from the additional labour. See page 9 of State Pension Age Review (DWP, July 2017):

- Proposals in the report include:

Using new technology to enhance productivity, jobs, and wages

  • Establish a commission on the future of work, engaging unions, business and civil society in how technology should be introduced.
  • Ensure that workers have a say in the introduction of technology at company and sector level, with new industrial bodies to bring unions and business together.
  • Diversify the tech workforce, with a plan to double the proportion of female STEM graduates in 10 years.

Protecting workers whose jobs are most at risk of change

  • Focus on older workers and increase investment in both workforce and out of work training to the EU average within the next five years.
  • Introduce a right to a mid-life career review, and face to face guidance on training.
  • Introduce a new life-long learning account, providing the opportunity for people to learn throughout their working lives.
  • Introduce a new targeted retraining programme aimed at those facing redundancy due to industrial change.
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