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Gains from the technology revolution must be shared, argues TUC

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05/09/2017
A new report from the TUC argues that the economic gains from the technological revolution should be shared more evenly across the workforce, and potentially be used to reverse planned increases in the state pension age.

The report, Shaping Our Digital Future, says that the benefits of technological change, including artificial intelligence and robotics, have historically gone to business owners rather than being shared across the workforce through better wages and working conditions.

Historically, although technical change has changed industries and made certain jobs obsolete, other jobs have emerged to take their place. However, the TUC said this has not always been evenly distributed. For example, in 1950 almost one in three workers worked in manufacturing, while one in 12 worked in professional and technical services. By 2016 these shares had reversed. The jobs lost in manufacturing were not replaced by jobs of similar or better quality in the communities affected. Wages in former industrial areas are still 10% below the national average.

The TUC says that the government, business and trade unions must work together to mitigate disruption to working people’s lives, and to maximise opportunities for working people to benefit. The report argued that income gains from technological change should be used to stop planned increases in the state pension age for people in their forties.

It also suggested that everyone should have the right to a mid-life career review, and stepping up the investment in workplace training to the EU average – at present the UK invests just half. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “With the UK failing to make productivity gains in the last decade, we need to make the most of the economic opportunities that new technologies are offering. Robots and AI could let us produce more for less, boosting national prosperity. But we need a debate about who benefits from this wealth, and how workers get a fair share.

“We should look on the changes ahead as an opportunity to improve the lives of working people and their families. The government could use the revenue generated to reverse policies to raise the state pension age. And businesses could use productivity gains to improve the pay and conditions of workers. Robots are not just terminators. Some of today’s jobs will not survive, but new jobs will be created. We must make sure that tomorrow’s jobs are no worse than today’s.”

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