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Should we fear machines? The opportunities and challenges of technological change for workers

Community - 3rd October 2018

Below you will find a speech made by Community’s Research & Campaigns Officer Kate Dearden during our fringe event at Labour Party Conference ‘Should we fear machines?’ on the challenges and opportunities of automation in the changing world of work.

Check against Delivery.

 

“I want to start off with a story about two workers.

One started work at 15, and one at 16.

They don’t have a GCSE between them, although I think they were called O levels back in their day, and got nowhere near to achieving A levels or a degree.

One went straight into hairdressing and the other as a printer at Fields packaging.

They’ve lived and worked in Bradford all their lives.

And they’re my mum and dad.

When my dad was made redundant from his work five years ago, they both had to look for a new career to make sure they were still bringing a good wage home for our family.

They now run a cafe together, working 7 days a week, 9-6 some days and have been doing that ever since.

You might be wondering why I’m reeling off my mum and dad’s CV…

They’ve got quite a few working years left in them, but working 7 days a week just isn’t sustainable for the lifestyle they want.

What they want is more flexible working, better hours, and to have an actual weekend.

But when we’re discussing their options and the jobs they could go into, they feel threatened.

They’re threatened by technology and how every single workplace now relies on technology in one way or another.

My mum barely knows how to work a computer – never mind excel, power point or machine learning.

That is a reality for a lot of people – technology is driving change at such a rapid pace that yes they’re bound to feel threatened.

That’s why Community’s Commission with the Changing Work Centre on workers and technology is so unique, and so important for Community as a trade union.

It’s about ensuring those workers, like my mum and dad, aren’t left behind in the changing world of work. We know automation cannot be stopped, and we would be letting down thousands of workers in doing so.

That they have options and the support to upskill and retrain and to see technological change in our workplaces as a positive and welcome addition to our productivity at work.

Sooner rather than later our changing world of work will have changed beyond recognition.

Already members across Community are sharing their experiences of automation in their workplaces.

From our finance sector to our justice sector, our union members are seeing machines capable of decision making, to machines processing casework from prisoners.

And research shows the areas that have already suffered so much from industrial decline, could be hit hardest, yet again.

Technological change is transforming job profiles, requirements and standards.

But trade unionists can get ahead in preparation of change on our shop floors and ensure there are protections for workers now. If managed correctly – we have the opportunity to create positive change for workers, moving towards shorter hours for the same pay, better work environment and safer workplaces, whilst boosting productivity.

Whether it’s lobbying for upskilling or retraining programmes, fighting for redeployment rather than redundancies, workers whose jobs will be impacted by technological change need solutions.

We need to be in a position where people like my mum and dad who are never going to be coders or AI researchers still have the ability to gain the skills they need to survive and succeed when the pace of change in the working world is only ever speeding up

Lifelong learning

On the job training

Skills development must be available throughout people’s entire working lives.

Government, trade unionists, and business policies have to work together to promote the work of good quality jobs.

That way we can make sure the fourth industrial revolution doesn’t further deepen the divides in an already fractured society between those who are at the forefront of change and those tens of millions of people who the labour and trade union movement was founded to represent.”

 

We are Community – the modern union for a changing world.

Learn more about how we are changing the world of work across the UK by clicking here