HR news round-up: from gen AI to a working mum tribunal win

In this week’s HR news: the potential impact of generative AI on jobs, the gender pay gap for female musicians, worries about economic inactivity and a tribunal win for a working mum.

artificial intelligence


Jobs warning for generative AI

Government needs to intervene to ensure generative AI does not leave many people unemployed in the future, according to the IPPR think tank.

Its new report says that the first wave of the generative AI revolution is already being felt with back-office, entry level and part time jobs – such as secretarial, customer service and administrative roles – at the highest risk of disruption and women hardest hit.

The report, which identifies two waves of generative AI impact on jobs, adds that young people are also at high risk as firms hire fewer people for entry-level jobs and introduce AI technologies instead. In addition, those on medium and low wages are most exposed to being replaced by AI.

IPPR has modelled three illustrative scenarios for the potential impact of the second wave of AI adoption on the labour market, when generative AI is more embedded, and says each depends on policy choices:

  • Worst case scenario – full displacement: all jobs at risk are replaced by AI, with 7.9 million job losses and no GDP gains
  • Central scenario: 4.4 million jobs disappear, but with economic gains of 6.3 per cent of GDP (£144bn per year)
  • Best case scenario – full augmentation: all jobs at risk are augmented to adapt to AI, instead of replaced, leading to no job losses and an economic boost of 13 per cent to GDP (£306bn per year)

IPPR has also modelled three scenarios for the potential impact of the first wave which is here now:

  • Worst case scenario – full displacement: 1.5 million jobs are lost, with no GDP gains
  • Central scenario: 545,000 jobs are lost, with GDP gains of 3.1 per cent (£64bn per year)
  • Best case scenario – full augmentation: no jobs are lost, with GDP gains of 4 per cent (£92bn per year)

It says potential wage gains for workers are huge – more than 30 per cent in some cases – but they could also be nil and that deployment of AI could also free up labour to fill gaps related to unaddressed social needs, for instance, roles in social care.

IPPR recommends the government develops a job-centric industrial strategy for AI that encourages job transitions and ensures that the fruits of automation are shared widely across the economy. It says this should include supporting green jobs, tax incentives or subsidies to encourage job-augmentation over full displacement and regulatory change.

Women underrepresented and less well paid in music industry

New research from the Women Musicians Insight Report shows over half of women in music say they have experienced discrimination compared to just 6% of men.

The report, based on over 2,000 responses follows on from the first ever UK Musicians’ Census – the largest ever survey of its kind by Help Musicians and the Musicians’ Union – and finds that 51% of women in music have been discriminated against due to their gender; a third of women in music have been sexually harassed; and female musicians are paid less and have shorter careers than men – despite on average being more trained and educated.

The report says the average annual income for a female musician was found to be £19,850, compared to £21,750 for men. This is despite the fact that 14% more women having a music degree and 15% more have a postgraduate music qualification. 27% of female musicians said they don’t earn enough money to support themselves and their family, compared to 20% of male musicians.

Age also has an impact. 47% of musicians aged 16-55 are women, but after the age of 54 this drops significantly to just 26%. This could also be due to women experiencing higher levels of age discrimination (30% of women reporting it vs. 21% of men).

This research also indicates how the kinds of roles that female musicians occupy are potentially determined by their gender. 79% of women in music are performing musicians, but only 15% of live sound engineers and 12% of studio/mastering engineers are women. Women also make up only 29% of DJs and 24% of producers. There are less women in certain genres of music. The largest gaps can be seen in UK rap, with just 8% of women reporting working in this genre, compared to 16% of musicians of other genders. Dance music also has a significant gap (18% of women compared to 28% of all other genders).

Concerns mount over economic inactivity numbers

The UK is slipping down the OECD employment ladder due to high rates of economic inactivity since Covid, according to a new report.

The Resolution Foundation think tank report found that the UK has fallen from having the second-highest employment rate in the G7 in the last quarter of 2019 to having the fourth-highest employment rate in the second quarter of 2023, with Germany and Canada rising into second and third place. Looking at the OECD more widely, the UK has slipped from an impressive sixth place down to thirteenth place.

The report says high economic inactivity – not high unemployment – is the reason.  The number of working-age people who are economically inactive in the UK increased from 8.6 million to 9.3 million between December-February 2020 and November-January 2024, a rise of 700,000 or 8 per cent.  On the other hand, the number of working-age people in employment and unemployment is near-identical to that on eve of the pandemic.

The oldest and youngest are behind the rise. While some of the economic inactivity among the young is due to them being in full-time education, but economic inactivity due to long-term sickness is a major cause of concern, says the report. There were 2.7 million working-age adults economically inactive due to long-term sickness in November-January 2024, peaking at a record-high of 2.8 million a couple of months earlier in September-November 2023. Economic inactivity due to long-term sickness has been rising consistently on an annual basis for the past four-and-a-half years since the summer of 2019 and this represents the second-longest sustained rise in sickness-related inactivity on record.

When it comes to health, mental health and musculoskeletal problems are the biggest causes of long-term sickness. The Resolution Foundation says it is the rising number of new claims for PIP (Personal Independence Payment, the main non-means-tested benefit for those with health conditions or disabilities) that will cause policymakers the most concern. Among 16-64-year-olds in England and Wales, new claims for PIP increased by two-thirds (68 per cent) between November-January 2020 (on the eve of the pandemic) and November-January 2024 and the number is continuing to rise.

The report says benefits changes may be in part to blame and that toughening unemployment benefits criteria, for instance, by introducing more conditionality, may mean an increase in claims for health-related benefits. Rising NHS waiting lists are another cause of concern. The report cites increases in the 1990s when benefits changes were introduced, saying: “If we look back at the experience in the 1990s, we can see that the rise in economic inactivity due to long-term sickness was followed by significant changes to the benefits system (most notably the introduction of Incapacity Benefit in 1995), rather than significant action to improve the health of the population.”

It states: “Any spell out of work due to ill health can be damaging to an individual’s well-being and living standards, but the risks are even greater for young people at the start of their working lives. But we should also worry about older adults spending their later years in poor health and on a low income, particularly given the UK’s demographic profile. If we fail to address this problem soon, it is likely to result in even higher costs in the future.”

Mum wins tribunal case over travel changes

A working mum has won her case for indirect sex discrimination and unfair dismissal after her manager suddenly changed her contract to include long-distance travel.

Mrs A Perkins lost her job at Marston (Holdings) because she could not travel significant distances because of childcare issues following a company reorganisation. Perkins had informed her manager that she could not travel long distances, but her manager told her that her seniority meant she had to.

However, Liverpool tribunal ruled that it was not proportionate to ask her to travel significant distances to achieve the goals of business efficacy and staff morale, having heard that she was willing to travel reasonable distances and meet face to face or virtually if significant travel was required.

The tribunal said: “It appears that this was…something that the respondent wanted but not what was needed.”

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