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Prof Tony Dundon presented to a House of Commons select committee on Automation and the Future of Work

Kemmy Business School (university of Limerick) Professor invited to present research to a House of Commons select committee in the British parliament on Automation and the Future of Work
Tony Dundon, Professor of Work and Employment at the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, was invited to present research evidence about the challenges for the future of work arising from automation, new technology and artificial intelligence to a British House of Commons Select Committee, set up by the UK Government’s Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS) Department.

Professor Dundon’s evidence focussed on key areas of expertise around the ‘value of voice and social dialogue’, ‘labour market institutions’, and options to ‘redistribute productivity gains’ from technological advancement. Commenting to the select committee, Professor Dundon stressed that technology (including especially digital platforms such as those common in the gig-economy, robotics and artificial intelligence) are not neutral or value-free forces shaped by technological determinism but rather enacted from decisions of policy-makers and business leaders. He reported that predications claiming the ‘end of work’ or ‘mass unemployment’ from new technology to be over-exaggerated, but nonetheless a key challenge for the future.
Automation and technology are changing job tasks as opposed to whole jobs. We are unlikely to see the collapse of whole industries because of automation, but likely to see shifts and waves of unemployment and employment in new areas and declining areas. The key challenge is how to manage the interface between technology and automation”
To that end, systems for better regulation are important choices to meet wider societal redistributive challenges for equality and fairness:
evidence is that other countries have shown productivity increases with reductions in working hours … [with] the gains shared across society rather than skewed towards corporate or private enterprises”.
The research that members of the Select Committee are interested is part of a larger research consortium with collaborators from the Work and Equalities Institute at the University of Manchester, where Professor Dunson is a visitor. He outlined eight potential policy recommendations for the future of work (see Box X) connected to their research published in over 20 peer reviewed articles, research reports for bodies such as the ILO and EU Commission from a team of collaborators affiliated to the Work & Equalities Institute. A key message is that while new technology has and can be a threat to jobs, the idea this will lead to a permanent displacement of the standard employment relationship (SER) is not fully supported. What is apparent from the data on employment change is a ‘hollowing-out’ of substantive protections associated with a SER model (such as weakened voice, low pay, diminishing welfare support and growing inequality). Professor Dundon stressed that whether or not automation will further erode employment protections is a policy choice that is in the hands of the Select Committee and its final report.

Box X:  Eight FoW Policy Recommendations submitted to House of Commons Select Committee on ‘Automation and the Future of Work’

  1. Putting people first: There needs to be a reorientation of policies towards putting human development first.
  2. Voice and Social Dialogue: Policies to promote participative decision-making for the betterment of society as opposed to a predominant concern with profit-maximisation. 
  3. Gender equality: Automation and digital technology design can better support a future of work that reduces gender inequalities. 
  4. Work and leisure-time: The productivity gains from automation can be shared through a reduced working week without necessitating reductions in real earnings for many employees. 
  5. Valuing paid care work for a more equitable society: The productivity increases from automation can be used to better reward undervalued jobs, such as care work. Given demographic trends, more care workers will be needed.   
  6. Better labour market regulation:  To benchmark corporate standards and align with global standards for the future of work, such as the International Labour Organization and OECD.  
  7. Labour market enforcement is required to protect and ensure standards. 
  8. End ‘bogus’ self-employment’: Policy options include clearer contract status protections for workers managed via digital technologies and automated controls.

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