The UK has a large and growing low-wage economy. 6 million workers earn less than the Living Wage, hours are insecure and for many the prospects for progression at work are all too limited.
Much of this workforce is unsupported. Trade unions play a crucial role in some parts of the low-wage economy but are absent from large swathes of it. Overall, their membership is heavily skewed towards the public sector, above average earners and older workers. There are few signs of this changing.
Meanwhile self-employment, agency-based employment, ‘platform working’ and jobs with insecure hours are all on the rise. Workers in these positions have few places to turn.
A new generation of pro-worker innovation, in which technology will play an important role, should form part of the response. Currently, tech is being used to transform work and management in a range of ways – often resulting in a more controlled, fragmented and insecure workforce. For instance, the growth of the ‘gig economy’, whatever its wider merits, poses specific challenges to existing legal rights and forms of worker organisation.
Yet new approaches that use tech to increase support for workers are possible – whether in increasing bargaining power, boosting pay, lowering costs or reducing hours-insecurity. Some examples of this are starting to be seen in other countries, notably the USA. But tech-enabled pro-worker innovation in the UK is still in short supply.
That is the problem we want to address. It’s why we are looking to back a new generation of civic ventures that use technology to support the low wage workforce.
Find out more about WorkerTech and apply for funding with our partners at Bethnal Green Ventures.