Labour launches commission to protect workers from automation threats

The Labour Party has launched a commission to protect UK workers against future threats stemming from rapid technology development and automation.

The move is a reaction to results of a survey released at the party's conference in Liverpool which revealed that the majority of workers fear automation will threaten their job security and lead to lower wages. 

The study by YouGov and Oxford University found that although workers tend to support investment in automation technologies, they don’t believe it will make their lives better jobwise. 

Thirty four per cent of survey respondents said they expect automation to decrease job security, while only 6 per cent were confident job security will improve as a result of increasing automation. Twenty two per cent of workers said they worry automation will lead to lower wages. Only 6 per cent thought wages would actually rise. 

Nevertheless, 39 per cent of respondents said they were in favour of investment into automation technologies while only 12 per cent were against. Thirty one per cent of participants expressed confidence that automation will increase their productivity. 

"New automated technologies are fusing with the internet and creating models of work and jobs we haven't seen before,” said Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, who will co-chair the new commission together with employment lawyer Helen Mountfield.

“Daily we hear stories of machines and systems that can do things we thought only humans could do - driving cars, drafting contracts, even composing music. It's been called the fourth industrial revolution - a new era of fast, technology-driven change, which we're beginning to feel in everything we do.” 

However, he added that the rapid automation is not delivering benefits to all people equally. 

"Too many people whose grandparents were trade unionists with secure jobs are now working 60-hour weeks, below the minimum wage, without any support from a union," he said. "If we think of the UK economy as a pie, since 2009 the slice of the pie that goes to workers as wages has fallen relative to the slice that goes to capital owners as profit.” 

Automation may only exacerbate this inequality, he warned, and the new commission will examine challenges facing the workforce of the future.

"The problems of inequality aren't new, but the solutions will need to be,” Watson said. "The idea is to connect different sectors and perspectives and consider emerging work trends. To push the agenda. And encourage strategic partnerships, so we can start influencing policy right now - from opposition."  

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