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A future that works for working people

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Research and reports
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Key findings

The report calls for unions, employers and government to work together through a new Future of Work Commission. It would set out how the government can:  

  • Ensure that new technology is introduced with the consent of workers – with new technology agreements agreed by trade unions in workplaces across the country. 

  • Investigate how to boost productivity across the UK, by investing in new technology that can improve the quality of life. 

  • Ensure that the gains from that productivity are shared with workers, setting out an ambition to move to shorter hours and higher pay. The commission should see moving to a four-day week, with no reduction to living standards, as an ambition for the twenty-first century.  

  • Provide skills training for those at risk of losing their jobs as the workplace changes – with a new learning entitlement for every worker, delivered with advice from a union rep. 

A future that works for working people - cover

The world of work has changed significantly since 1868, when the TUC was founded. Match factories have been replaced by Amazon fulfilment centres; dockers with Uber drivers. And changes in technology, demography and the climate are set to change work further still over the coming years.

Trade unionists are optimistic about the future. Our past shows that by working together, we can make work better. But at present, the way that work is changing poses real challenges to achieving our aim of a fair deal for workers.

This report brings together the latest evidence with a new large-scale poll on how technology could affect the future of work, conducted for the TUC in the summer of 2018.

Download report (pdf)

Introduction and summary

For 150 years the TUC, and the unions we represent, have been fighting to change the world of work for good. We’ve won significant gains for working people along the way.

  • Fair pay – from the ‘dockers tanner’1 to the national minimum wage, we’ve fought for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work
  • The right to time away from work – from the eight-hour day to paid parental leave, we’ve won time to spend on family, friends and leisure
  • A voice in the workplace and a fair framework for union law – at the heart of trade unionism is the principle that working people should have a say in the decisions that affect them, and that acting together we can achieve more than we can alone. Our right to have a say in the decisions that affect us, to be represented at work, and to be able to collectively bargain to improve our pay, terms and conditions are at the heart of everything we do

Throughout it all we’ve fought for equal treatment for everyone, no matter what their background. We’ve supported women machinists at Ford in Dagenham and Halewood to win equal pay, and the workers at Grunwick to win union recognition and racial justice.

The world of work has changed significantly since 1868, when the TUC was founded. Match factories have been replaced by Amazon fulfilment centres; dockers with Uber drivers. And changes in technology, demography and the climate are set to change work further still over the coming years.

Trade unionists are optimistic about the future. Our past shows that by working together, we can make work better. But at present, the way that work is changing poses real challenges to achieving our aim of a fair deal for workers.
This report brings together the latest evidence with a new large-scale poll on how technology could affect the future of work, conducted for the TUC in the summer of 2018.

Unfair pay

New technologies have the potential to make us all richer. The government estimates that robotics and autonomous systems could boost UK output by over £200bn. With the UK stuck in a productivity slump we urgently need to invest in potential new sources of growth.

But the rewards from new tech are currently concentrated on a few Silicon Valley billionaires, while working people in the UK experience the longest pay squeeze since Napoleonic times. Pay falling behind living costs tops the list of workers’ concerns over the next five years (48 per cent of workers we polled put it within their top three – over twice the amount who say they’re worried about the potential for technology to take their jobs). And most UK workers (51 per cent) are worried that the benefits of new technology will be hoarded by managers and shareholders.

Making sure that workers’ get a fair share of the rewards from growth is our biggest challenge. And we know we need stronger trade unions to meet it.

It’s about time

A shorter working week, and more control over our time, has long been the promised pay off from technological progress. JM Keynes, the economist who shaped post-war government policy, suggested we’d be working 15 hours a week by now. In the last century, trade unions won the eight-hour day, the normalisation of the weekend, and limits on excessive working hours. Today, we found that if they could choose, a four-day working week would be most people’s preference.

But instead, new technology is threatening to intensify working lives. For some, the on-demand economy has meant packaging work into ever-smaller pieces of time. This is a return to the days of piece-work, creating a culture where workers are required to be constantly available to work. Over 1.4 million people are now working on 7 days of the week, 3.3 million people work more than 45 hours a week and, in our polling, we found that stress and long hours are workers’ biggest concerns after pay.

Others still struggle to get the hours they need to fit with family life. Ensuring that the benefits of greater productivity deliver more time as well as more money for workers should be front and centre of our negotiating agenda.

Voice control

The communications revolution should make it easier than ever for everyone to have their say at work – for unions to organise, and for bosses to listen to their workers. But new technology is increasingly being used not to empower workers but to seek to monitor and control them. Over half of workers say they are being monitored at work, and, only two in five feel able to challenge this decision.

Unions are critical to the task of helping people have their say on the introduction of new technology, but with collective bargaining coverage falling to just one-in-four workers, it’s clear that there’s a long way to go before all workers have the chance of a fair say at work.

A future that works

We know that we can tackle these challenges using the technology that’s served us for 150 years: representation and collective bargaining in the workplace. Trade unions must play a key role in shaping the future of work, ensuring that workers share in the benefits of growth through shorter hours and higher pay. To achieve that, we need:

  • A renewed effort to expand collective bargaining, with trade unions aiming to renew collective bargaining coverage across the private and public sector – supported by a policy framework that gives working people more of a say in their workplace, in their sector and at the national level.
  •  Government to establish a new Future of Work Commission that brings together trade unions, employers and independent experts. It would set out how the government can:
  •  Ensure that new technology is introduced with the consent of workers, with new technology agreements agreed by trade unions in workplaces across the country.
  •  Investigate how to boost productivity across the UK by investing in new technology that can improve people’s quality of life.
  •  Ensure that the gains from that productivity are shared with workers, setting out an ambition to move to shorter hours and higher pay. The commission should see moving to a four-day week with no drop in living standards as an ambition for the twenty-first century.
  •  Provide skills training for those at risk of losing their jobs as the workplace changes – with a new learning entitlement for every worker, delivered with advice from a union rep.

About the polling in this report

GQR conducted a poll of 2,145 working people in Great Britain aged 16 and over. Fieldwork was conducted between 24 July and 3 August 2018. Results were weighted to be representative of the working population of Great Britain by gender, region, age, social grade, ethnicity, full/part-time work, public/private and industry sector.

  • 1. The 1889 dock strike won an increase of 20% for casual workers – from 5d and hour to 6d (6d piece known as a tanner). 6d in pre-decimal currency equates to 2.5 pence)