THE UK's biggest union has backed the introduction of a “universal basic income” to protect workers whose jobs are under threat from driverless cars and robotic machinery taking over work traditionally carried out by humans.

Warning of widescale job losses in manufacturing and transport, Unite called for the radical shake- up of the welfare state that would see means-tested benefits replaced by a flat-rate payment.

Unite said the payment should be introduced as soon as possible due to a growing threat of job losses caused by automation.

A universal basic income (UBI) was the only way to make sure such changes do not "exacerbate the existing ‘race to the bottom’ of wages, terms and conditions", it claimed.

The union set out the case, for what is sometimes also known as a citizen's income, in a policy paper for the left wing think tank the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

"The impact of automation is not limited to manufacturing. Unite members working in the transport sector will be seriously affected by the development of automated/driverless vehicles, particularly in logistics and bus and taxi drivers", it said.

Unite will also use this week's Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) to press the case for a UBI to protect living standards.

In a motion to the STUC at Aviemore, which runs from Monday to Wednesday, Unite calls on governments to legislate to bring Scotland into line with Finland, which has launched such a policy.

Pilots for the scheme are being considered for Fife, Glasgow and North Ayrshire.

Unite has also pointed out that the UK and New Zealand Labour parties were considering introducing such a policy if they came to government.

Unite's motion to the STUC warns "that the introduction of new technology and automation is predicted to accelerate".

It goes onto call on the STUC to campaign to protect the workforce in Scotland from the worst effects of automation.

However, it said that "should be underpinned by legislation and action at government level, including the introduction of a Universal Basic Income in the social security system".

The report published by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, 'Automation – friend or foe?', highlighted moves towards automation are already being made by multinational firms.

It said: "Daimler already has autonomous technology in demonstration trucks, while Volvo says that they could have the technology within two years."

Unite also said there were reports about how "a driver’s wage accounts for roughly a third of the total cost of owning and running a lorry".

It added: "This, plus a growing shortage of qualified drivers in Europe, could provide the incentive for the industry to automate.

"We must ensure that automation does not merely exacerbate the existing ‘race to the bottom’ of wages, terms and conditions.

"While automation will change the nature of existing work, Unite does not accept that it must result in unemployment."

In response, a UK Government spokesperson, said: "The Scottish Government already has the power under the Scotland Act 2016 to introduce new benefits."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that ministers "welcome potential trials in Scotland" of the scheme.

The Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to reducing poverty and tackling inequality.

"Further research is needed to see how Citizens Basic Income would work in an advanced economy and we will continue to watch international trials closely as they develop.

"We welcome potential trials in Scotland, such as those in early stages of discussion by Fife Partnership, Glasgow Council and North Ayrshire Council

"Any trials in Scotland would require the full cooperation and agreement of the UK Government, which retains key powers over tax and welfare.”