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Government must protect vulnerable workers from digital revolution


MPs have urged government to be more proactive in planning for the future of work in a new Work and Pensions report.

The fast-paced technological changes of the past year risk having an uneven impact on different groups of workers, with a rise in remote work and increased use of digital communication potentially leaving some workers segregated from the UK workforce, the report found.

The Committee said while it is not likely new technology will lead to mass unemployment, it warned the creation of new jobs and loss of others will be uneven across sectors and across different groups of workers.

To avoid people being excluded from jobs and workers protections, MPs advised the government to plan ahead and shift focus to retraining and reskilling employees. 

Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham and chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said deep-seated trends were already driving labour market inequalities but the pandemic had exacerbated them.

He said: “As we emerge [out of the pandemic] automation and new technologies will continue to transform both how people work and the skills they need to succeed.

“The government needs to plan now, to avoid large groups, younger workers, women, disabled people and those from some ethnic backgrounds, being left behind.”

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The report called on government to develop a comprehensive long-term strategy to prepare for changes in the world of work brought about by automation.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said the report’s key recommendation that the government needs a long-term plan for responding to the changing world of work, will be welcomed by all.

He said ensuring existing inequalities in the labour market are not exacerbated as a result of technology, will be vital post-pandemic.

“Boosting investment in lifelong learning should be central to this plan, as well as revitalising our vocational education and training system to enable people to upskill or retrain at different stages of their working lives.

Reforming the Apprenticeship Levy into a more flexible training levy is a key policy change if the system is to be more responsive to employers’ skills requirements,” he said.

Willmott added that the levy reform would also enable businesses to work more effectively with further education providers to support adult skills development. 

MPs warned that while new technology has the potential to enhance employees’ experience of work, there is also a risk it could have an adverse impact on workers’ rights and wellbeing.

For this reason, the Committee reiterated its call from June 2020 for the government to urgently bring forward an Employment Bill to enhance the rights of workers in the low-paid and gig economy.

Willmott said bringing forward the Employment Bill would help provide greater clarity over employment status and rights and that it should be a priority for government.

“The way in which employment rights are enforced needs to be improved, particularly for those in low paid and insecure employment," he said.

“It’s crucial the new single market enforcement body receives sufficient resources to do its job when it is established.

“There’s a need to significantly boost the number of inspectors and increase the number of proactive inspections of workplaces if the new body is to be more effective than existing enforcement mechanisms.”