The TUC has urged the government to use productivity gains from the greater use of robots and artificial intelligence to reverse planned changes to the state pension age.
Before its annual congress in Brighton, the TUC said higher levels of productivity thanks to technological innovation ought to bring greater benefits for working people. It said recent progress had mainly benefited business owners, rather than being shared across the workforce through better wages and working conditions.
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Analysis from the accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests GDP could receive a 10% boost from productivity gains linked to artificial intelligence by 2030, helping to bolster the British economy as it seeks to escape a period of weak output growth. That could relieve the pressure on workers to stay in employment into their late 60s, according to the TUC.
Analysis from the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Department for Work and Pensions estimates that for each year the state retirement age is raised, 0.3% of GDP is saved in state pension expenditure, and 1% more GDP is generated from the extra labour.
The government announced in July that it would increase the state pension age from 67 to 68 between 2037 and 2039.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: “Robots and AI could let us produce more for less, boosting national prosperity. But we need a debate about who benefits from this wealth, and how workers get a fair share.”
There have been previous waves of technological advance since the first Industrial Revolution, when inefficient jobs have been replaced by machines or the number of people required to do work has been reduced. Such advances have not led to an overall loss of jobs, but have disrupted the type of work people do.
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There are concerns that the current phase of innovation could be more damaging, while the rewards from higher productivity have not necessarily translated into higher wages. The latest available figures show low levels of unemployment unseen since the mid-1970s, but growth in real wages remains negative as inflation outstrips a sluggish earnings growth.
In 1950, almost one in three workers worked in manufacturing, while one in 12 worked in professional and technical services. By 2016 the proportions had reversed, according to the TUC, but it found the jobs lost in manufacturing were not replaced by jobs of similar or better quality in the communities affected. It said wages in former industrial areas were still 10% below the national average.
The increase in the state pension age, which was controversially brought forward by seven years by the work and pensions secretary, David Gauke, is expected to affect about 7 million people in their late 30s and early 40s.
As well as reversing the move on the pension age, the TUC said workers should be given the right to a midlife career review, while firms should invest more in workplace training. At present, the UK invests just half of the EU average, it said.
O’Grady said: “Robots are not just terminators. Some of today’s jobs will not survive, but new jobs will be created. We must make sure that tomorrow’s jobs are no worse than today’s.”