By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Rapid advances in the development and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have also triggered a rapid labour market and workplace transition. At the labour market level, it is likely to increase productivity and create new jobs, but at the same time it is likely to replace or at least alter other jobs, thus increasing reskilling needs and risking the displacement of workers and business models unable to adapt.
Similarly at the workplace level, AI is likely to improve the quality of the working environment, for example, by reducing stress and safety risks. Yet, they are also likely to lower job quality and raise concerns including potential discrimination, excessive surveillance as well as deficits regarding transparency, explainability and accountability of AI-influenced decisions.
It is in this backdrop, an OCED recent working paper titled “Shaping the transition: artificial intelligence and social dialogue” has said that the overall impact on labour market and the workplaces will depend on how AI is implemented– which includes both the role of regulation in governing AI adoption and the extent to which workers and employers are involved through social dialogue at workplace, firm, sectoral and national levels.
It should be noted that in the 2019 OECD AI Principles, governments agreed to take steps to ensure a fair transition for workers as AI is adopted, including through social dialogue. However, the progress is much slower than the speed of development of AI and its adoption.
The paper has noted that AI adoption will bring both benefits and risks for workers and employers and provide new opportunities but also noted the raising fears about disruptive labour market and workplace transitions. Practical challenges have emerged in course of transition, and hence there is a need for social dialogue to support social partners’ efforts in shaping AI transition, it emphasized.
The paper presents new descriptive evidence together with ongoing initiatives from social partners showing that social dialogue has an important role to play in the AI transition. It discusses how AI adoption may affect social dialogue itself, eg by adding new pressures on weakening labour relations systems and posing practical challenges to social partners, such as insufficient AI-related expertise and resources to respond to the AI transition.
AI technologies will have an important impact on labour markets and the workplace, it says. As a result, workers and employers will need to grapple with significant transitions and adjustments. It is in this context, social partners can effectively engage in various channels of action at the workplace, firm, sectoral and national levels. Each of these actions can vary on the underlying legal framework, ranging from no rights (such as voluntary and informal exchanges of information) to information, consultation co-ordination and finally bargaining rights.
Social dialogue is an important instrument for involving and building consensus among the main stakeholders in the labour market. As such, social dialogue can for instance help employers find flexible and pragmatic – yet fair – solutions to labour market challenges, and collective bargaining can shape the design and definition of new and existing rights, and complement government efforts to strengthen labour market security and adaptability.
At the same time, social partners face ongoing challenges like declining representation of their members, which new forms of work and new business models, enabled by organisational and technological changes, risk to exacerbate.
AI adoption will bring both benefits and risks for workers and employers at workplace and labour market levels. Reviewing these from unions’ perspective indicates that their concern is increasingly shifting from risks of job destruction towards other risks of AI adoption in the workplace, linked for example to potential discrimination, excessive surveillance and violations of human rights.
At the same time, AI technologies may also affect social partners’ capacity to promote and mitigate benefits and risks of AI for workers and employers, for example by increasing information asymmetries between bargaining parties.
New descriptive evidence based on cross-sectional European data suggests that social dialogue might contribute to mitigate AI’s impact on risks relating to working conditions. Additional questionnaire insights and ongoing activities from social partners show that they are already engaging in raising voice, advising policy and negotiating their first AI-related agreements.
However, most ongoing activities stem from a few very active unions and employers’ organisations. In this respect, the lack of AI-related expertise among social partners is one of their major challenges to support their members in the AI transition.
Overall, workers union’s priority appears to shift from macro-economic concerns (notably AI’s impact on job destruction) to more micro-economic ones (notably the trustworthy use of AI, changing skill demands and job quality at the workplace level).
While each country’s situation and labour relations differ, the paper says that policymakers could consider promoting consultations and discussions on the AI transition with social partners and other stakeholders. They could also support social partners’ efforts to expand their membership to non-represented forms of work and employers like in the platform economy, as well as promote AI-related expertise, and digital education more generally, in the workplace for management, workers and their representatives.
In the future, more data and analysis at the individual and firm levels will be necessary to understand how social dialogue shapes the AI transition, also between different occupations and sectors. In particular, this would require having firm-level panel data that combines information on AI adoption, social dialogue and labour market outcomes or working conditions at the same time. (IPA Service)