New technology like AI, automation and robotics could pave the way for better working conditions – including higher pay and reduced workloads – a new TUC report sets out today (Monday).
Government and business estimate that new technologies could boost UK GDP by at least £200bn in the next decade. But most UK workers (51 per cent) expect that the benefits of new technology will be hoarded by managers and shareholders, rather than shared fairly between managers, shareholders and ordinary workers (34 per cent).
The TUC says that the government must act now to make sure workers share in these gains, by raising workers’ living standards and giving them more control at work.
Shorter hours and higher pay
Full time workers in the UK put in some of the longest hours in the EU, behind only Austria and Greece. And they rack up £32 billion worth of unpaid overtime. New analysis in the report shows that the number of people working all seven days of the week has now reached more than 1.4 million.
Reducing working time is a way to share the gains of increased prosperity. Eight in ten workers (81 per cent) want to reduce working time in the future – with 45 per cent of workers opting for a four-day working week, without loss of pay, as new tech makes work more efficient. The TUC says the UK should consider how to move to a four-day week over the course of this century.
And after the longest pay squeeze for 200 years, improving wages tops the list of workers’ concerns.
Most workers (74 per cent) want technology to give them more control over their working lives.
But many employers now demand that workers do unpredictable or unsocial hours, or keep staff constantly on standby to work at the demand of an app or text message.
This always-on culture, where workers are on standby without being paid, cuts into time with family and friends and makes it impossible to plan life outside work. And it’s being facilitated by new workplace tech that takes away workers’ rights.
The TUC wants immediate action to tighten working time rules, ban zero-hours contracts, and give workers fair notice of their shifts.
Hopes and fears
Two-thirds (66 per cent) expect that automation will lead to work becoming faster-paced and more intensive. And a similar number (72 per cent) expect they will be more closely monitored by bosses.
But workers are positive about what could be achieved if technological change is managed in the right way, including fewer dangerous jobs (68 per cent), more creative work (68 per cent), more enjoyable work (66 per cent), and more use of interpersonal skills (66 per cent).
Making sure the benefits are shared
The TUC says that if workers are to enjoy real benefits from technological change, unions must have a stronger say in workplaces, so that companies that use technology have to negotiate on its use and make sure productivity gains actually benefit workers, through improved pay and conditions.
And nationally, unions, employers and government should work together to make sure that new technology benefits the UK workforce, through a new future of work commission.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Workers are having a hard time. They’ve suffered the longest pay squeeze in 200 years. Millions of people are stuck in insecure jobs and stressed out. And too many employers are using tech to treat workers unfairly.
“Bosses and shareholders must not be allowed to hoover up all the gains from new tech for themselves. Working people deserve their fair share – and that means using the gains from new tech to raise pay and allow more time with their families.
“When the TUC’s first Congress took place 150 years ago, people worked ten hours a day with only Sunday off. But in the last century we won a two-day weekend and limits on long hours. This century, we must raise our sights to reduce working time again.
“If productivity gains from new technology are even half as good as promised, then the country can afford to make working lives better.”
Comment from Richard Woodman, Partner in the Employment team at Royds Withy King
“Many employers are already going to great lengths to make the lives of their staff easier and more family friendly with flexible working now a high priority for most HR teams. Ideas from the USA and Europe, such as staff choosing the amount of holiday taken and strict ‘no work out of hours’ policies, are also beginning to find their way into UK employment practices.
“But while employees would no doubt welcome a four-day working week, employers may need a lot of convincing about the TUC’s view that AI and technological developments can create sufficient economic benefit to achieve this.
“And in some sectors a move to a four-day week may prove all but impossible: it is difficult to see how the NHS, GP surgeries and healthcare providers for example, could currently accommodate a four-day working week when they are already stretched. And the same could be said of retail and hospitality, where the demand for 24-7 service is unlikely to diminish.
“Some employees will fear that a move to a four-day week would just mean them having to somehow manage to fit five days’ work into just four – and that could prove to be stressful resulting in increased sickness and absences.”