An increase in the precariousness of work onto an already uncertain jobs market

For several years, there has been growing anxiety around the changing nature of work.

This includes the rise of the ‘gig economy’, zero hours contracts, and the use of technology to monitor every minute of an employee’s day. For some in the labour force, work has become less secure, poorly paid, and subject to intense micromanagement.

The arrival of COVID-19 has led to further fears, as remote working and the need for technological uptake in the workplace have led some companies to speed up their automation plans. It has even been reported that, given the likelihood of future disruption from COVID-19, investing in automation is more valuable than hiring or rehiring staff. Automation may be essential to surviving the current economic crisis and the sluggish, ‘U-shaped’ economic recovery that follows.

Last year, the ONS estimated that automation threatens the livelihoods of 1.5 million workers. The unemployment rate is currently rising, and if automation accelerates in the coronavirus crisis then it may be the case that some of the jobs lost over the coming months never resurface. Combined with automation, the rise of homeworking, facilitated by new technologies, has the potential to decimate the city centre jobs market in industries such as hospitality and retail, which heavily rely on commuter footfall.

At a time when businesses were already streamlining and becoming less labour intensive – think Amazon, delivery drones, and its checkout-free grocery stores – it seems likely that there will be added precarity to what was already a very uncertain jobs market.

This piece originally appeared as part of Smart Thinking’s “Views That Matter” series.


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