Robots, AI Could Lead to Longer Retirements

Report says gains from modernization should be used to halt rising pension ages.

A new report published by the UK’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) argues that the economic gains from digitization, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to benefit workers by reversing certain policies, such as increasing the state pension age.

“With the UK failing to make productivity gains in the last decade, we need to make the most of the economic opportunities that new technologies are offering,” said TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady in a statement. “We should look on the changes ahead as an opportunity to improve the lives of working people and their families. The government could use the revenue generated to reverse policies to raise the state pension age.”

The report, “Shaping Our Digital Future,” analyzes how the next technological revolution will impact jobs and wages.

“There is certainly a fear that a new divide between the lucky few that thrive from digitalization and the many that do not will create a new fissure in our societies,” said the report. “Digitalization, alongside globalization and climate change, could be one of the great challenges of our age.”

According to the report, previous waves of technological change have not led to an overall loss of jobs, but have disrupted the types of job people do. “And with the most recent wave of industrial change,” said the TUC, “rewards from higher productivity have gone predominantly to business owners, rather than being shared across the workforce through better wages and working conditions.”

According to the TUC, in 1950. nearly one-third of workers were employed in manufacturing, while one in 12 worked in professional and technical service. By 2016, these figures had reversed.

“But the jobs lost in manufacturing were not replaced by jobs of similar or better quality in the communities affected,” said the TUC. “Wages in former industrial areas are still 10% below the national average.”

Suggestions for how the benefits could be shared with workers from the TUC’s report include:

  • Using income gains from higher productivity to stop planned increases in the state pension age, set to affect millions of people in their 40s.
  • Giving everyone the right to a mid-life career review, and increasing the investment in workplace training to the EU average. TUC says the UK currently invests just half the average.
  • Giving more workers the opportunity through collective bargaining to gain a share of the economic gains technology brings through wage increases.
“Robots and AI could let us produce more for less, boosting national prosperity,” said O’Grady. “But we need a debate about who benefits from this wealth, and how workers get a fair share.”

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