William Fry's focus on AI in the workplace discovers the potential for artificial intelligence to help solve some of Ireland's current employment law issues. Artificial intelligence or AI is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perceptions, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages". The term is defined in popular culture, and in the eyes of employees the world over as an ever-approaching threat. The World Economic Forum has discussed AI as a major element of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and something that will rapidly change our world and workplaces. Regardless of the definition, AI is coming into our workplaces and coming quickly.
In our Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Workplace article series we are considering the potential positive impacts that AI could have on the workplace and the possible amendments required to Irish employment law to allow these to happen. In our opening article in the series we identified gender inequality as an Irish employment law issue requiring urgent attention and an issue that could be helped by the clever use and application of AI. In this article, we focus on how AI can help employers promote gender equality including; gender pay gap reporting, encouraging gender diversity and fostering collaborative workplaces. Mandatory gender pay gap reporting is fast approaching in Ireland, with two separate pieces of legislation on the issue currently working their way through the legislative process. On 26 June 2018 the Cabinet approved the General Scheme of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill.
Trade unions have vowed to oppose any move by employers to use technological advances in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence as tools to exploit workers. Unions also pledged to fight any Government plan to restrict the right to strike in some essential services, as proposed recently by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. The biennial conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Belfast also passed a motion calling for the Government to introduce legislation to give union officials the right to enter workplaces to represent, organise and recruit workers. In an address to the conference, Ictu general secretary Patricia King also urged the Government to scrap the existing reduced VAT rate for the hotel and food services sector, which she described as "completely untenable". She said three-quarters of all workers in the accommodation and food services sector earned less than €400 per week.
The robots are coming, or so media have proclaimed in recent months. The world of work is about to undergo a revolution as advances in technology mean that many jobs humans do now will likely be done by machines instead in a matter of years. How many roles will go and what sectors will be most affected is open to debate but it seems certain widespread change is upon us. According to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report published in January, more than seven million jobs are at risk from advances in technology in the world's largest economies over the next five years. If anything this is a conservative estimate.
There is no doubt that technology is changing where we work, how we work and when we work. With that comes many advantages – increased productivity, efficiency and potential to increase the bottom line. It can also facilitate increased agile working for a workforce striving to improve work/life balance. But technology also brings challenges, with which UK employers are continuing to wrestle as they seek to attract, engage and retain a future-ready workforce. The impact of technology was highlighted as a key issue in the Future Chemistry report we recently produced in partnership with clients from across the UK.