Unions call for regulation to protect workers from surveillance technology
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The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned intrusive worker surveillance technology and artificial intelligence risk ‘spiralling out of control’ without stronger regulation to protect workers.
According to research conducted by the TUC, most workers say they have experienced surveillance in the past year and overwhelmingly support stronger regulation.
The computer scandal that saw some sub-postmasters wrongly jailed must be a turning point on uncritical use of worker-monitoring tech, the union organisation said.
“The Post Office scandal must be a turning point,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “Nobody should have their livelihood taken away by technology.”
The TUC also warned technologies could lead to widespread discrimination, work intensification, and unfair treatment if left unchecked.
“Employers are delegating serious decisions to algorithms, such as recruitment, promotions, and sometimes even sackings,” O’Grady said.
The TUC said surveillance can include monitoring of emails and files, webcams on work computers, tracking of when and how much a worker is typing, calls made, and movements made by workers.
According to the TUC, the “creeping role” of AI and tech-driven workplace surveillance is now spreading beyond the gig economy into the rest of the labour market.
AI-powered technologies are even being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice, and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles, the report said.
The TUC is calling for a statutory duty to consult trade unions before an employer introduces the use of AI and automated decision-making systems, alongside digital rights to improve transparency around the use of surveillance technology.
“Workers must be properly consulted on the use of AI and be protected from its punitive ways of working,” O’Grady insisted. “It’s time for ministers to bring forward the long-awaited Employment Bill to give workers a right to disconnect and properly switch off outside of working hours.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government is wholeheartedly committed to improving and upholding workers’ rights.
“The UK has world-leading data protection laws, and the Information Commissioner has tough powers to investigate and fine companies which breach an employee’s right to privacy.”
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