Furloughed jobs at risk of being replaced by automation

More than 60 per cent of jobs furloughed in the first half of 2020 were in sectors at high risk of automation, a new study has found.

The final report of the two-year Commission on Workers and Technology revealed that the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the take-up of job-replacing technologies, especially among low-skilled workers.

The research, put together by Community and the Fabian Society, found that without action millions of people now face greater insecurity, harder work and worse pay and conditions in the wake of the pandemic.

The report describes two possible scenarios for the future of work, the first being that jobs get worse as technology gets better.

In this scenario workers will be shut out of decisions without rights or representation and denied the training to adapt to new jobs and prepare for the future.

The preferred outcome would see technology help tackle COVID-19, support the ageing population, make economies more productive, fund and improve public services and deal with the crisis of climate change.

In this more optimistic scenario, technology would make work safer, more flexible and more productive.

The Commission calls for several major reforms to ensure the latter scenario plays out over the coming years, including:

• Work and Train Guarantees for the unemployed – building on the Kickstart Scheme, the Government should guarantee jobs and free training for everyone who remains unemployed
• Urgent action plans and added support for the retail and hospitality sectors including help for the workers who are most likely to need retraining and job support
• A major overhaul of adult training and skills to better help workers adapt, including free training above level 3; statutory training pay and time off to train; an expansion of the Union Learning Fund and apprenticeships
• A stronger voice for workers in the adoption of new technology in the workplace by extending collective bargaining and mandating worker consultation in large firms
• Action to increase the pay and status of caring jobs and other low-paid key worker roles that are less likely to be automated
• Bringing Government, employers, trades unions, small businesses and self-employed representatives together into new social partnership institutions to work together on the adoption of new technologies in the workplace

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