Productivity Commission to examine tech change and future of work

Commission has been asked to consider the potential impacts of rapid technological change

Minister of finance Grant Robertson has asked the Productivity Commission to examine and report on technological change, disruption and the future of work in a project to be undertaken jointly with the Australian Productivity Commission.

The move follows the launch last August of a joint Australia-NZ project focused on growing the digital economy and maximising opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises.

The minister said the commission had been asked to consider the potential impacts of rapid technological change and its impact on the future of work and the workforce in New Zealand, to help inform future government policy so the opportunities presented by disruptive technologies for economic productivity and social prosperity could be realised, and the risks managed.

The commission said its earlier joint project had been designed to explore how institutional and regulatory settings in the two countries could support the use of digital technology and, in particular, how small and medium enterprises could maximise the opportunities from digital transformation.

NZ Productivity Commission director, Judy Kavanagh, said the joint report had highlighted the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital economy.

“In this new mandate the commission will provide recommendations that will help manage the likely impacts of wider technological disruption and change on the future of work, the workforce, labour markets, productivity and wellbeing.”

She said the commission’s work would be informed by the knowledge and insights of all sectors of the economy and society.

"The Commission will be speaking with public bodies, unions, businesses, academics and other interested parties to better understand the impacts of technological change on the future of work."

In his instructions to the commission Robertson said well-designed and coordinated government responses could allow New Zealand to fully realise the potential of disruptive technologies for economic productivity and social prosperity, improve the services provided by government and increase the efficiency and effectiveness with which government functions.

He said it would also enable the Government to provide an enabling environment without unnecessary barriers to desirable change, while effectively managing risks, and help to prepare New Zealand for any rapid labour displacement and distributional impacts.

“Given the uncertainty around future technology and its impact, the inquiry is not expected to make detailed, quantified predictions of impacts,” Robertson said. “Rather, it should give a sense of the nature and relative scale of impacts in different scenarios.

“The inquiry should have a long-term focus, with recommendations that can be implemented in the short- to medium-term.

"It should provide a resource for government to develop policies and programmes that make the most of the technological opportunities on offer and allow New Zealanders to face an uncertain future with confidence.”

The Commission’s final report to the Government is due on 31 March 2020.

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