With concerns about Brexit bearing down on the economy, the leader of the UK’s biggest union Unite, has today (Monday 27 March), warned that more action is needed by the government to prepare the workforce for the increasing automation of the economy.
Calling for the establishment of a broad-based commission on the future of work, Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the union, said that automation presents huge challenges but could be a benefit to society if handled well.
And he warned that automation should not be used as an opportunity to ‘cut costs and make a fatter profit’, but used instead to re-think the working week and re-skill the workforce.
According to a 2016 World Economic Forum survey, an estimated 1.6 million manufacturing and production jobs will be lost globally due to automation between 2015 and 2020.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “If Brexit is the most pressing challenge we face, it’s not the only one.
“Automation is also casting a long shadow. The replacement of workers by robots is an issue facing all parts of manufacturing and many service sectors, but it’s presently focussed on the motor industry above all.
“One manager recently said: ‘Instead of five people doing these jobs, I have one guy running five robots that do tedious jobs longer without quality issues. Plus, the robot shows up for work every day and doesn’t get the flu.’
“Automation could be a good thing for industry and society, if handled in the right way – which means not seeing it as just another opportunity to cut jobs and costs and make a fatter profit.
“It should instead be an opportunity for a shorter working week with no loss in pay, or the gateway to a nationwide programme of re-skilling and up-skilling existing workers, while also creating new training and apprenticeship schemes.
“That won’t happen if a laissez-faire free-market approach is allowed to dominate.
“A world where our parents’ hopes for a ‘job for life’, has been replaced with the hope for work for the next few years, is one that is insecure and uncertain.
“That is why Unite is calling for the government to take the lead in setting up a Future of Automation Commission, involving unions, employers, researchers and academics to find workable solutions to automation, opportunity and threat as it simultaneously is.”
Len McCluskey’s calls for action on automation and Brexit can be read here: http://huff.to/2mH94y5
For further information, please contact Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.