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Usdaw Conference 2022 Retail workers need protection from automation, general secretary Paddy Lillis warns

RETAIL workers need greater protection from the growing threat of automation in the workplace, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis warned today.

The retail union’s general secretary said artificial intelligence is exacerbating a lack of job security and mental health issues for workers. 

Addressing delegates on the opening day of Usdaw’s 2022 conference in Blackpool, Mr Lillis also slammed Tory ministers for scrapping England’s Union Learning Fund last year.

This was despite nine in 10 workers across Britain needing retraining over the next decade due to automation, he added. 

Measures are needed which will “benefit the workforce, employers and society more generally,” Mr Lillis said, including a right for workers to be consulted on the introduction of new technology, paid time off for retraining and significant improvements to redundancy rights. 

“If we deliver highly organised workplaces and make employers listen to our concerns, then Usdaw members can benefit from technology and automation,” he argued.

“However, if we are not prepared, if we are not organised and if we fail to represent the interests of our members, then new technology has the potential to make members’ working lives harder.”

Delegates unanimously backed a motion which instructed the union to demand retailers ensure there are four workers for every self-checkout machine amid fears over job cuts. 

Member Lynn Goodwin, a Sainsbury’s worker, said that increasing use of the technology had led to daily “horror stories” in stores, with overworked staff being blamed by managers for increased incidents of shoplifting by customers using self-checkout. 

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