The House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has been holding a series of inquiries into post-pandemic economic growth in order to assess the overall state of the labour market in the UK, its prospects, the pressures it faces, and the Government’s policy response. Their report, published on 21st April 2023, presents their findings and recommendations.
IFOW Director and co-founder, Anna Thomas presented evidence to the committee on 15th November 2022, which can be found in full here. The report summarised this in paragraph 59, under the chapter on ‘AI and Tech’:
The Institute for the Future of Work (IFOW), an independent research and development institute, warned that technology is often assumed to de facto improve productivity, and remove “dirty, dull and dangerous” work. Anna Thomas, Co-Founder and director of the Institute, acknowledged that automation has the potential to create good jobs and have positive impacts on conditions and quality work, but “at the moment we are not seeing that happening”.
She added that: “it is worth remembering that good work and wellbeing is associated with higher levels of engagement, motivation, innovation and productivity. Work is ongoing, but we think that, if investment, design, procurement and deployment of the AI systems has these desired outcomes in mind, the outcomes for everybody across the board are likely to be better”.
The BEIS Committee affirmed IFOW’s evidence by concluding:
“The use of technology and automation in the workplace has enormous potential for improving economic productivity, increasing wages and creating new goods and services for domestic use and export. As we live and work for longer, the use of AI and automation can support how individuals and society adjust to new ways of working”.
IFOW has consistently recommended that Algorithmic Impact Assessments should be used as a framework and tool to preemptively ascertain the impacts of AI and other data driven technologies on work, mitigate negative impacts and maximise positive impacts. This should be done in partnership with employers and unions alongside increasing the floor of digital rights for notification, information and involvement when technology is introduced.
The BEIS Committee has agreed, recommending that:
“We do conclude that implementation of new technologies in the workplace should be done in partnership with workers and, where relevant, their trade unions. We call on the Government to introduce, whether by statute in the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill,73 or by other means, a requirement
a) on businesses to conduct impact assessments to understand the scope and consequences of the use of new technologies in the workplace; and
b) for workers to have the right to consultation and notification where the application of technology in the workplace will result in the surveillance of a worker, or result in a significant change to their work. That notification should explain in plain English what the technology is, when it is being implemented, how it will be operated, and what the impact will be on the worker. We encourage employers to involve workers in the design and implementation of new workplace technologies from the start of that process.