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The Rise of the Robots


The Rise of the Robots

The job market is changing. As robotics, artificial intelligence and other forms of automation continue to advance at a rapid rate, they are transforming the ways in which we live and work, bringing  benefits to the economy. Machines are increasingly able to replace human workers in undertaking repetitive or physically demanding tasks. This in turn boosts productivity, and potentially frees up individual workers to carry out more challenging, rewarding tasks.

However, many fear that the emergence of these new technologies will lead to job losses, as well as deepening inequalities and injustices. Analysis firm Oxford Economics estimates that up to 20 million manufacturing jobs around the world will be lost to robots by 2030.

On the other hand it is likely that many roles will evolve and change with the rise of automation, rather than be lost altogether. It is also likely that workers will see the creation of new roles, as employers seek to employ technologically-savvy staff who can help them get to grips with these new technologies.

Either way, it is clear that automation will have a profound impact on the labour market in the coming decades, and it is important that affected employers take action to ensure that their workers can reap the benefits of these changes. Some practical guidance for employers is as follows:

Reskilling

As their roles change, workers may need to learn new skills in order for them to succeed, and will look to their employers to identify skills gaps and training needs, so that they can expand their existing skills base and experience and develop the new skills that they need. Employers will therefore need to ensure that training is available to employees to help them to prepare for any upcoming changes to their role.

Changing employment terms

Where significant changes are being made to job roles, employers should review their contracts of employment. Automation could potentially result in changes to key employment terms such as hours of work, salary or place of work. However, employers must obtain the employee’s agreement to changing their terms and conditions, and a fair and reasonable consultation process should be implemented to obtain that agreement (and it will also assist the employer in defending any claims which subsequently arise from this process).  We would advise employers to take legal advice where they need to make changes to key employment terms, particularly where the proposed changes will affect 20 or more employees (as additional statutory obligations may apply).

Transparency

Research undertaken by the Commission on Workers and Technology into the issue of job automation has revealed that while many jobs have been fundamentally changed by technology, workers are not being consulted on the proposed changes. This, according to the research, has led to workers feeling frustrated and powerless in the face of workplace changes that are beyond their control. So over and above the position on changing employment terms set out above,  from an employee relations perspective, it is good practice to ensure there is effective communication with employees over workplace changes.  It would seem that while automation may change the roles employees carry out it will not replace them so ensuring a happy and productive work force will still be important to business success. 

Posted by Stephanie Gallacher

Senior Solicitor

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