Robots offer a benefit and a threat to workers
Workers are demanding greater control over the spread of robots and other automation to avoid a severe impact on jobs.
A study by the Scottish Government and Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) found that benefits such as removing the drudgery of some tasks is offset by human roles being replaced by machines.
Unions fear automation can be used to cut costs, reduce labour and lead to a lowering of health and safety commitments.
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “Automation represents a major challenge to how work is organised, but it is still unclear how it will affect the quality and type of work in the long term.
“Predictions swing between utopian visions of emancipation through technology, to dystopian views of severe inequality.
“The STUC and the Scottish Government report cuts through this debate to recognise both the positive and negative impacts of automation.”
He highlighted on the one hand the closure of bank branches due to increased internet banking and examples where it can improve safety and security, like the digitised records in the health service.
“In all cases, workers must be involved in how automation is introduced, shaping or controlling their own workplaces through collective trade union involvement.” he said.
“Otherwise we are likely to see automation pursued as a cost-cutting, profit-driven measure, implemented without proper training or controls, or used to abuse staff with inappropriate targets or high levels of surveillance.
The report is published on the day of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s address to the STUC Congress in Aviemore.
Titled Technological Change and the Scottish Labour Market, it found that there is “little evidence to suggest that technology is currently significantly ‘disrupting’ the Scottish labour market or that it is likely to do so in the short-medium term”.
It said the evidence does not support the view that automation and digitisation will lead to the “catastrophic net loss of jobs predicted by some researchers”, but that it is likely that some occupations and sectors will experience “significant change”.
Nicola Sturgeon: ‘common objective’ (photo by Terry Murden)
Speaking before she addressed STUC Congress First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We share a common objective with the STUC – to ensure automation and digitisation have positive outcomes for all of Scotland’s people.
“Scottish workers are already benefitting from quality job opportunities in sectors such as game development and data analytics where we are at the forefront of technological change.”
Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, said: “The impact of digital development and the fast rate of technological change is being felt in long-established sectors of industry as well as newer emergent ones.
“Automation is the latest test facing working people, but really it is the same test that was set in the first industrial revolution – how do we ensure that working people benefit from automation, rather than become its casualties?
“New technologies should be creating new employment and a new work life balance, not being used to undermine workers’ rights and adding to job insecurity. In the end it comes down to who owns and controls the implementation of automation and so in whose interests it is shaped.
“Scottish Labour is prepared to intervene, to plan and not to simply rely on voluntary business pledges and Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market.”