This piece by James Meadway paints a bleakly plausible future for post-pandemic labour. Firstly, the economic costs of social distancing on businesses with already thin profit margins incentivises a renewed push towards automation, something which has been stalled by the relatively cost of labour heretofore. Why risk the large capital investment in robots when humans are so cheap? But for those firms which have the resources to survive the current crisis, the investment might now make a lot of sense, not least of all because minimising the number of staff involved in consumer facing interactions creates room for more consumers in the premises. Secondly, the existing development of micro-tasking might expand to become a mainstream part of working life for many:
It is certainly possible to imagine a future in which very large numbers of jobs have been broken down into tiny discrete routines, with totally insecure, zero-hour workers switching between tasks (‘microjobs’) across numerous separate employers, many of which will be done from an (increasingly monitored and regulated) home, and performed just at the point where it is marginally easier to employ a human than artificial intelligence – all being done under cut-throat competitive conditions against entirely unseen legions of fellow microjob workers.