Labour’s Tom Watson says robots can set us free and we should “embrace an Android”

Britain is unprepared for the technological revolution and should increase spending significantly on research and development (R&D) to keep up with advances in areas such as robotics and artificial intelligence, a Labour-commissioned report warned.

But the Future of Work Commission said it was also vital to introduce new protections through a Charter for Good Work, to stop employers using technology as a “new tool of worker exploitation”.

The report was welcomed by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, who said it showed that predictions of new technology’s apocalyptic impact on the world of work were “far too pessimistic”.

Calling on Britain to “embrace an android”, Watson said the country had too few robots, not too many, and that – properly regulated – “robots can set us free”.

Watson stressed that the commission’s recommendations were not yet official Labour policy, but gave his own personal welcome to certain proposals.

These proposals include spending on R&D and innovation to be fixed at 3.5% of national income by 2030 and reform to the tax system to reward companies which invest in technology and provide financial incentives to do so.

They also include a move towards a single category of “worker” in UK law, to ensure employees do not suffer by being classed wrongly as self-employed or casual and an increased collective organisation to protect workers’ security and bargaining power and rights to flexible working and leave for learning, to allow employees to gain new skills as their current roles become mechanised.

Speaking at the launch of the commission’s report, Watson said Labour would consult on its recommendations for new workers’ rights in the era of the gig economy.

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