New research from the Commission on Workers and Technology – which is chaired by Yvette Cooper MP – has revealed that nearly 6 in 10 workers (58%) say they can’t influence how technology changes their workplaces.
As the Commission reaches its half-way point, the new findings show that while a large majority of workers’ jobs have been changed by technology, most workers have no say in the process.
Yvette Cooper MP will present the emerging findings of the Commission (a joint-initiative of Community trade union and the Fabian Society) at the Community conference in Liverpool on Wednesday.
“As technology changes our workplaces, it is workers who should be in the driving seat. But our research shows that workers are too often being shut out of decisions that affect both their working conditions and their enjoyment of work.
“New technology offers the opportunity for a brighter future for workers. It can free us from demanding physical tasks, take over repetitive admin duties and allow us to spend more time on the most meaningful parts of our jobs.
“But there is an urgent need for politicians, trade unions and business leaders to act now to ensure technological change benefits everyone rather than widening existing inequalities. If we fail to prepare, we face a future where jobs get worse and workers’ voices go unheard”.
The Commission has spent the last year visiting workplaces and taking evidence from workers, academics and business leaders. Yvette Cooper outlined four initial findings from the Commission on Workers and Technology about the experience of workers on the ground:
• Technology is changing most people’s jobs but workers aren’t getting a say when this happens: The Commission has seen that technology change is having a widespread effect on jobs, and in the YouGov survey 80% of workers said technology introduced at their workplace has had some impact on their current role over the last five years. But the polling of GB workers also revealed that 58% of employees disagree with the statement ‘my employer gives me the opportunity to influence how new technology is used in my workplace’. Workers have told the Commission they feel frustrated and powerless about their lack of influence.
• Many workers are positive about technology change but there is also bad practice with significant problems in many sectors: The Commission has met workers across the country facing technology change at work and many are positive about change. In the YouGov survey, of the workers who said technology has had some impact on their work in recent years, 57% feel that it has had a positive impact on their role. But there is evidence of bad practice and signs this could get worse. The Commission has heard separate evidence about new technologies removing the enjoyable inter-personal elements from jobs, putting pressure on pay and conditions, and increasing the capacity of employers to engage in the punitive monitoring of workers.
• Technology change risks worsening inequality: Technology change risks embedding existing inequalities in the workforce. ONS analysis shows that people without a degree currently do almost all the jobs at high risk of automation. Women and older workers are also at greater risk, and there are big inequalities between places too. The Commission has also heard evidence about algorithms embedding existing bias in recruitment, and new technology facilitating a growing gap between the incomes of those who own assets and those who earn wages.
• Politicians, trade unions and business leaders must do more to prepare workers for change: Most workers are not very worried about new technologies replacing or fundamentally changing their jobs in the near future. The Commission has spoken to workers in occupations at high risk of automation who did not believe that what they do in their own job could be affected by new technology. Workers are unaware and uncertain about potential technological innovations, and often do not receive training from employers to prepare them for future change.