The TUC has warned that the increased use of worker surveillance technology, which has become increasingly common during the pandemic, is spiralling out of control and needs urgent regulation.

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 the worker using CCTV, and trackable devices. Left unchecked, the union body believes that these technologies could lead to widespread discrimination, work intensification, and unfair treatment.

The warning comes as the TUC published new polling which revealed that the overwhelming majority of workers (60 per cent) believe they have been subject to some form of surveillance and monitoring at their current or most recent job. Three in 10 (28 per cent) of those polled agreed that monitoring and surveillance at work had increased since the pandemic, with 36 per cent of young workers (18 to 34- year-olds) expressing concern.

The union body also warns of a huge lack of transparency over the use of artificial intelligence (AI) at work, with many staff left in the dark over how surveillance tech is being used to make decisions that directly affect them. For example, the use of automated decision making via AI includes selecting candidates for interview, day-to-day line management, performance ratings, shift allocation and deciding who is disciplined or made redundant.

The TUC adds that AI-powered technologies are currently being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice, and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles.

To combat the rise of workplace surveillance tech and “management by algorithm”, 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
  • An employment bill which includes the right to disconnect, alongside digital rights to improve transparency around use of surveillance tech
  • A universal right to human review of high-risk decisions made by technology.

The TUC points out that at the same time, the UK government has been consulting on diluting the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) as part of its post-Brexit divergence agenda. The EU is putting in place laws dealing specifically with the use of AI. Yet another example of the UK falling behind its EU counterparts on workers’ rights.

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