Blog and news
June 4, 2021

IFOW Newsletter May 2021 | The View from IFOW

Dear Friends,

We’ve had a great response to the launch of ‘The Amazonian Era: How algorithmic systems are eroding good work’. Our report, supported by Trust for London and the Open Society Foundation, found that the practices and tools of the gig economy are embedding in established firms across the economy at an alarming rate. Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s newly appointed Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work, responded to the publication of our report in her first comment in the role. We look forward to continued discussions with Government, opposition parties and regulators about our findings and recommendations.

This month also saw the launch of the APPG for the Future of Work’s inquiry in ‘AI and Surveillance in the Workplace’. The panel for the first session included IFOW’s own Dr Abigail Gilbert, the TUC’s Mary Towers who discussed the TUC’s work on AI and writer and journalist James Bloodworth author of ‘Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain’. We explored how artificial intelligence and ‘surveillance’ technologies are changing the nature, experience and quality of work from the perspective of the people doing it. Inquiry Chairs David Davis MP and Clive Lewis MP wrote in the Times about the launch of the inquiry, citing key findings from the Amazonian Era.

We very much enjoyed joining Tortoise Media as a connecting partner for their ‘Future of Work Summit' that took place yesterday. The summit included sessions on changing how we think about ‘upskilling at scale’ with IFOW’s Co-Chair Naomi Climer; rethinking ‘people first’ ways of working with Julia Hobsbawm, Chair of the Demos Workshift Commission; and exploring new power dynamics at work with TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady. We’ll be sharing content from the summit on our social media over the coming days.

Have a good weekend and enjoy the bank holiday,

Anna

Anna Thomas
Director
Institute for the Future of Work

Deep Dive: The Amazonian Era

‘The Amazonian Era: How algorithmic systems are eroding good work’ found that we are living through a new transformation of work, where the ethos, practices and business models that emerged within the gig economy have been packaged up and made available for download to the furthest corners of our essential services, reshaping the lives of millions of workers across Britain. Our research included frontline worker and technology developer interviews, a new USDAW member survey, and a review of a worker platform marketplace that has spread ‘like wildfire’ through the pandemic.

The key findings from this report include:

  • ‘Work’ is being redefined in narrow terms that can be quantified and measured by an algorithm.
  • This approach is segregating the workforce, intensifying work and eroding the value of human skill, judgment and agency of the people undertaking it.
  • Work has become a site of experimentation in changing human behaviour and relationships through needless acquisition and control of human data.
  • Routes to enable understanding, involvement and redress are unknown, non-existent, or not working.

The report finds that this experimental, short-term approach to the design and deployment of technology is eroding Good Work, changing workplace relationships and restructuring firms. This is not sustainable and has significant costs for communities across the country. We are urging the Government to act now to curb these concerning trends and redirect technology to work for people and the public interest. Policy recommendations include:

  • The Employment Bill should be introduced with a dedicated Schedule of ‘Day 1’ Digital Rights.
  • The Government should initiate an Accountability for Algorithms Act in the public interest which will require early algorithmic impact assessment and adjustment when adverse impacts are identified.
  • The Cabinet Office should initiate a collaborative, cross-government Work 5.0 Strategy, underpinned by the human-centred design and use of technology. The future-focused strategy should be developed with industry, unions and civil society.
  • Collective bargaining covering use of algorithmic systems and new collective rights for involvement should be permitted, and anti-union laws repealed.
  • The overarching goal for the UK’s AI Strategy should be human flourishing and wellbeing – and the role of Good Work to achieve this goal must be formally recognised and considered.

Interesting Reads

Dimitri Zenghelis has written for the IFOW blog this month about green jobs, productivity and the labour market.

The iLabour project at the Oxford Internet Institute has announced the Online Data Observatory, digital data hub for the study of online labour markets. Explore the hub here.

The Fairwork Foundation has launched their first UK Platform Ratings report in which they evaluate fair work standards in eleven of our most popular digital platforms and identify key areas for improvement.

Professor Vili Le and Dr Alex Wood have published work on ‘Platform Precarity: surviving algorithmic insecurity in the gig economy’ which was presented at the Data Justice Lab’s 2021 Conference in Cardiff.

The Ada Lovelace Institute published a new report on ‘checkpoints for vaccine passports’ calling for specific and delineated use, with built-in mechanisms to support rights, including the right to work.

Listen to Data and Society’s podcast on how data is connected to how we value labour and ourselves here.

Diane Coyle, Martin Vander Weyer and IFOW’s Anna Thomas explore how we can avoid insecure, poor quality work and underemployment as the economy opens up with CPP’s Charlotte Aldright here.

Upcoming Events

The Institute for the Future of Work will be curating the ‘Future of Work’ stage at the 2021 CogX Festival. The ‘Future of Work’ stage will be taking place on the 14th of June and will focus on the question: how do we get the next 10 years right?

You can get a free virtual pass to the CogX Festival here.

Our stage will host the following sessions:

Good Work For All | IFOW Co-Chair, Nobel Laurate Sir Christopher Pissarides and the TUC’s Kate Bell.

Big Brother and Big Boss | Carissa Veliz of Oxford University's Institute for Ethics in AI will be joined by Prospect Union’s Andrew Pakes and Women in AI’s Ivana Bartoletti

Designing Technology for a Better Future of Work | IFOW Trustee and InnovationRCA Director Nadia Danhash will be joined by Jeremy Myerson Director, WORKTECH Academy.

Trends for the Future | IFOW Co-Chair Naomi Climer will be joined by Lord Jim Knight and UCL’s Prof. Rose Luckin.

The Amazonian Era: Gigification of Work | IFOW Director Anna Thomas will be joined by author Alec Macgillis.

ESG Investment and Good Work | IFOW Trustee and Snowball CEO Dani Barone Soares will join Danielle Walker Palmour, Director of Friends Provident Foundation.


The APPG for the Future of Work will be hosting the 2nd evidence session in its inquiry into ‘AI and Surveillance in the Workplace’ from 1-2.30pm on the 8th of June. For more information about the inquiry and public call for evidence email hana@ifow.org.

The Women’s Budget Group are hosting a webinar on COVID-19 and Working Lives in the UK: Inequalities of Gender and Class on 18th June, with IER’s Clare Lyonette and Professor Tracey Warren at the University of Nottingham presenting.

The Resolution Foundation are hosting a webinar on Technology and Low Pay: How Workertech can help build a better post-Covid future for workers at 2pm on the 8th of June.

The Alan Turing Institute is holding an event from 12.00-13.00 Wednesday 9th June. Judy Wajcman will host a fireside chat with Kate Crawford on her book Atlas of AI.

 

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Author

Anna Thomas

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