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by Jenni Davidson
18 April 2018
'Little evidence' that technology ‘significantly disrupting’ Scottish labour market, STUC and Scottish Government report concludes

'Little evidence' that technology ‘significantly disrupting’ Scottish labour market, STUC and Scottish Government report concludes

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There is “little evidence” that technology is currently “significantly ‘disrupting’” the Scottish labour market or that it is likely to do so in the short to medium term, a joint government and trade union report has concluded.

The joint report from the Scottish Government and the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) sets out how digitisation, automation and other technological change will affect jobs in Scotland.

It follows meetings between the First Minister and the STUC, where discussions covered the growing anxiety among some workers that their jobs may either be lost or changed due to new technologies.

However, the reports concludes that “the more pessimistic accounts of imminent job losses are based on flawed methodology and a lack of appreciation of the relationship between technological and economic feasibility.”

It notes a growth in self-employment, but suggests that if technology was a major factor in that there would be similar trends in other OECD nations and that this doesn’t seem to be happening to the same extent.

It suggest instead this is likely to be a feature of the UK’s tax system and labour market.

While the report highlights that automation may be “a tool to enhance wellbeing and job quality”, there is also a risk that it will “further pressurise those already under-pressure in the workforce”, for example, by allowing for a greater level of performance tracking by employers that can create a “inappropriate targets culture” and feelings of “powerlessness or a loss of control” among workers.

In its section of the report, the Scottish Government reminds that high quality jobs have been created in the recent past in sectors where Scotland has been at the forefront of technological change, including life sciences, the games industry in Dundee, the technology cluster and fintech in Edinburgh and research and commercial spin-offs by Scotland’s higher education sector.

The report concludes: “The trajectory of this technological change is not yet clear and its likely impact on the range and quality of jobs is currently subject of fierce debate.

“It is therefore sensible to prepare to manage this change, in a way that is consistent with shared Scottish Government and STUC priorities of inclusive growth, Fair Work and reducing inequality.”

Based on this, the STUC and Scottish Government advocate a number of steps to prepare for future change, including looking at how other countries are dealing with technological change, maximising high quality jobs and focusing on skills needed, including in-work training.

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 sever inequality.

“The STUC and the Scottish Government report cuts through this debate to recognise both the positive and negative impacts of automation.

“It found examples where new technologies lead to job losses, such as 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.

“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.”

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.

“The report recognises and addresses the genuine fears many workers have over ways in which technology might affect their working lives and future job prospects, and highlights where Scottish Government approaches to skills development and fair work can help meet the challenges of technological change.”

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