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STUC Conference Gig-economy work practices are creeping into the wider job market, warns new report

UBER-STYLE work practices are creeping into the wider economy, warns a new report published today.

The Scottish TUC has said the automation of jobs must be controlled by workers — or it will risks empowering bosses and damaging the economy.

The report, jointly published by the STUC and the Scottish government, says “gig economy” employers have caused an “over-reliance on forms of self-employment” that deny workers holidays, guaranteed hours and rights.

But it warns that “management by algorithm … extends well beyond the gig economy into traditional occupations in sectors previously regarded as a source of stable, quality employment.”

For instance, many retail chains are now using automated systems to schedule shifts around peaks and troughs in customer demand. This leaves workers with hours that change on a weekly basis.

The report also said that the “very short shifts” created to fill gaps in these automated schedules mean some workers “spend almost as much time travelling to and from work” as on the shop floor.

STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “In all cases, workers must be involved in how automation is introduced.

“Otherwise we are likely to see automation pursued as a cost-cutting, profit-driven measure, implemented without proper training or controls, or used to abuse staff with inappropriate targets or high levels of surveillance.”

A motion from shopworkers’ union Usdaw due to be heard at STUC Congress this week raises concerns over the imposition of change and the resulting lack of human contact.

Communication Workers Union assistant secretary Pauline Rourke said automatically generated statistics “justify more and more micromanagement” in call centres.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “New technologies should be creating new employment and a new work-life balance — not being used to undermine workers’ rights and adding to job insecurity.

“In the end it comes down to who owns and controls the implementation of automation and so in whose interests it is shaped.

“Scottish Labour is prepared to intervene, to plan and not to simply rely on voluntary business pledges and Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market.”

Mr Leonard has previously sounded the alarm over the precarious conditions of workers employed on a major road project in north-east Scotland. Workers employed through “umbrella companies” had a payroll fee, as well as employer national insurance stamps, deducted from their pay packets at source.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she opposed exploitative practices but it was “at the discretion of individual employees if they choose to work through an agency.”

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