WORKERS must be involved in the introduction of automation to avoid tech being used to “abuse” staff, a unions leader claims.

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), says without this, automation could become just a cost-cutting measure, with employees paying the price through intrusive monitoring or “inappropriate” targets.

The comment comes as the STUC and Scottish Government publish a report on technological change and the labour market.

The publication coincides with the start of the STUC annual congress in Aviemore today.

Smith said: “Automation represents a major challenge to how work is organised, but it is still unclear how it will affect the quality and type of work in the long term. Predictions swing between utopian visions of emancipation through technology, to dystopian views of severe inequality.

“The STUC and Scottish Government report cuts through this debate to recognise both the positive and negative impacts of automation. It found examples where new technologies lead to job losses, such as the closure of bank branches due to increased internet banking, and examples where it can improve safety and security, like the digitised records in the health service.

“In all cases, workers must be involved in how automation is introduced, shaping or controlling their own workplaces through collective trade union involvement.

“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.

“These are the sorts of consequences we will be debating at congress, which the union movement is working to avoid.”

The report follows discussions between the organisations about the impact of new technologies and found that there is “little evidence to suggest that technology is currently significantly ‘disrupting’ the Scottish labour market or that it is likely to do so in the short-medium term” or that automation and digitisation will lead to the “catastrophic net loss of jobs predicted by some researchers”.

However, it concedes that some occupations and sectors will experience “significant change”.

Unions have called for more workplace control of new technologies to ensure safety, skills development and workplace security are guaranteed when new systems are introduced.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is to address the union summit, said: “This report highlights the continuing positive and constructive relationship the Scottish Government enjoys with trade unions.

“We share a common objective with the STUC – to ensure automation and digitisation have positive outcomes for all of Scotland’s people. Scottish workers are already benefitting from quality job opportunities in sectors such as game development and data analytics where we are at the forefront of technological change.

“The report recognises and addresses the genuine fears many workers have over ways in which technology might affect their working lives and future job prospects, and highlights where Scottish Government approaches to skills development and fair work can help meet the challenges of technological change.”