TUC: Use technology to work shorter weeks, not bully workers

Too many managers use technology to exploit workers, rather than enabling them to work smarter, says the TUC
Mao Siqian/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

The TUC claims employees could work shorter weeks on higher rates of pay if we make the most of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics.

At its 150th annual congress this week, the union will urge the government to ensure that the benefits of new technologies are not “hoarded by managers and shareholders” and instead are shared fairly between managers, shareholders and “ordinary workers”.

According to a TUC survey, more than half (51%) of workers fear that boosts to the UK economy from technological innovation will result in gains for business owners rather than improvements in their own standard of living. Eight in 10 would like to reduce their working time in the future, and 45% would opt for a four-day week without loss of pay.

Almost three-quarters (74%) think improvements in technology should give them more control over their working lives, as opposed to the “always-on” culture fostered by many employers. The TUC argues that much new technology takes away workers’ rights – for example by forcing them to be on standby for gig economy jobs without being paid – instead of making their lives easier.

Two-thirds of respondents to the TUC’s research believe automation will lead to work becoming faster-paced and more intensive. Seventy-two percent believe it will mean they are more closely monitored by bosses.

Workers do anticipate some positive outcomes, too: 68% think technology developments will mean fewer dangerous jobs; 68% believe they will create more creative work; and two-thirds think we will make greater use of our interpersonal skills and work will be more enjoyable.

The TUC wants unions, employers and government to come together to negotiate on improved pay and conditions through a future of work commission. The aim of the commission would be to:

  • Ensure that new technology is introduced with the consent of workers – with new technology agreements agreed by trade unions in workplaces across the country.
  • Investigate how to boost productivity across the UK, by investing in new technology that can improve the quality of life.
  • Ensure that the gains from that productivity are shared with workers, setting out an ambition to move to shorter hours and higher pay. The commission should see moving to a four-day week, with no reduction to living standards, as an ambition for the twenty-first century.
  • Provide skills training for those at risk of losing their jobs as the workplace changes – with a new learning entitlement for every worker, delivered with advice from a union rep.

General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “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 10 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.”

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