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Business and union leaders debate workers and technology

Community - 18th July 2019

The Director General of the CBI and the General Secretary of the TUC were the latest high-profile figures involved in the Commission on Workers and Technology. The Commission is an initiative of Community and the Fabian Society through their joint collaboration the Changing Work Centre.

In a conversation event chaired by Yvette Cooper MP, Frances O’Grady from the TUC and CBI leader Carolyn Fairbairn discussed how technology is changing the world of work and the potential effects it can have on workers.
Introducing the conversation, Yvette Cooper MP explained the role of the Commission:

“The point is to look at the impact of technology on jobs from a worker’s point of view, including the opportunities and the challenges. A lot of the jobs that are being created due to the introduction of technology are in the city, but this is replacing jobs in the towns. So we risk an opportunity gap and potential new injustices. We haven’t got time to wait to tackle this.”

Carolyn Fairbairn responded:

“The work of the [Commission on Workers and Technology] is so important because it is so human… technology has the chance to improve lives. Unless we make technology work for people, it won’t work for business either… The UK could get this absolutely right. We need to think bigger, better and more imaginatively.

“The way that you make this work is to get your people involved… constantly be talking about good examples. This shouldn’t be confrontational, it’s about getting technology adopted quickly and positively.

“We’re not getting employee engagement on tech adoption right yet. We know there are good ways of doing it. Why don’t we spark a wildfire of best practice?”

During the conversation, Frances O’Grady said:

“The point for us is not just about change, but positive change for workers not bad change. If it’s good, we’ll roll up our sleeves and help to shape it. There are big questions about the amount of the data that we give away for free. What does [technology] mean for welfare systems and frameworks of rights? Big, big questions.

“Workers want a voice. I would love to have a discussion about how we design technology and what we’re creating it for.

“We’ve called for a four-day week to kick off that debate about working time.”

“The trade union movement is calling for a just transition of industrial change so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

“If we want the kind of just [technology] transition where people are looked after and not left on the scrap heap, we need to pay for it.

“We live our lives online, but we can build in our ethos of collectivism. If we design technology with a specific set of values, it will be positive.

“We’ve got to empower people to start talking about how we design technology.

“It’s about whether there’s an appetite to share power. Who’s around the table? Who’s in the room and who’s locked out?”

The Commission on Workers and Technology is continuing to gather evidence, listening to experts, employers and workers.