Retail trade union Usdaw has given evidence to MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Retail, highlighting the challenges workers face with the introduction of new technology and focussing on the greater use of self-service tills.

The evidence session, chaired by Liz Twist MP (Labour, Blaydon), heard from Chris Morris, Usdaw Deputy Head of Research and Policy along with representatives from across the retail industry.

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “It is clear that technology, automation and algorithmic management is significantly changing the world of work, with the CBI predicting that nine in ten UK employees will need to be reskilled over the next eight years. Usdaw is not trying to stop this developing technology, but we need to ensure workers’ interests are protected. Addressing the training issue, we need to reinstate the Union Learning Fund, fundamentally overhaul the Apprenticeship Levy Scheme and provide a right to paid time off for training.

“However, training is just one of the many issues our members are facing. Another key issue, which is being raised by both retail workers and customers, is self-service checkouts. Many customers feel forced into using self-service checkouts, leading to their frustrations being taken out on staff. Shopworkers suffer significant stress and feel overstretched when covering banks of self-service tills, with having to deal with so many customers at the same time.

“Shopworkers provide the customer service that many shoppers really value and we do not want to see jobs cut through the introduction of new technology. There are real concerns about theft from unstaffed tills, disputes over technology errors and customer confusion on how systems work. All of these problems can be real flashpoints for abuse of shopworkers. All too often retailers are dazzled by new technology, chasing solutions to problems that don’t exist. Usdaw believes that employers should invest in staff. Well paid shopworkers, in secure jobs, who are valued and respected are what is best for business.”

Usdaw has recently produced a policy statement on understanding technology and automation. As part of the statement, we surveyed members on their experiences and concerns on the issue and found that:

  1. One in five workers are extremely concerned about their job security over the next five years.
  2. Nine in ten reported that their employer failed to consult on the implementation of new technology.
  3. Over half of workers do not believe they have been given adequate training on the use of technology.

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