Union pushes for collective bargaining around technology and data

The Prospect Professional Technology Workers Union has published guidelines to help workers negotiate with employers on the use of various digital technologies in the workplace, with particular emphasis on the need for collective bargaining on how technology is deployed.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise of remote and hybrid work, many businesses have begun to use monitoring software to monitor their employees working from home.

Many of the digital monitoring tools available today allow businesses to see a range of information about their employees ’activities, from recording their keystrokes and mouse clicks to tracking their physical location and using apps or websites.

Using this and a variety of other information, software can help businesses conduct predictive and behavioral analytics by enabling executives to understand and track how productive employees are over time. It can also be used to provide algorithms with human resource functions, including hiring and firing.

However, despite significant sales sales of employee performance monitoring software since the pandemic and the benefits that managers say it could bring to organizations, some are concerned about how it is being implemented and deployed, citing employee privacy and mistrust as major problems.

“These changes raise important practical issues for trade unionists. New technologies at work can be positive – for productivity, equity, safety or quality of work. But they can also lead to risks – dehumanization, loss of privacy, built-in bias and loss of accountability, “- said in a guide to Prospect, published on February 15, 2022.

“These are issues that should concern unions, and workers will increasingly turn to unions to find solutions.”

To combat the imbalance of power that such digital technologies are spreading between employers and employees, Prospect’s management outlines four “pillars” that can help establish the voice of technology workers in the workplace: consultation, negotiation, challenge and organization.

The key to each of the pillars is the need to enter into collective agreements on the use of data and digital technologies, which will effectively verify and challenge their use in the workplace.

These technology collective agreements should, for example, enshrine the obligation of employers to consult, consider and involve the union at all stages of the introduction of new technology, as well as clear rights to compensation.

Andrew Pakes, director of research at Prospect, added that governments have demonstrated that they will always lag behind in regulating technology, which means unions must guarantee the protection of workers.

“This new guide gives Prospect representatives the tools they need to be able to negotiate with employers on the issue. It is very important that employers interact with unions and their workforce as soon as possible before introducing new technologies or systems – this guide ensures that our representatives will be able to stand up for their colleagues, “he said.

“We hope that data rights and technology use agreements will eventually become part of any collective agreement. Preparing representatives to discuss these issues is the first step towards making it a reality. “

The leadership also stressed the need for unions and workers to know the relevant laws. For example, it states that employers are required by the UK’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to consult with employees and their representatives as part of the Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), which can then be used as a place for verification and negotiation. use of new technologies.

With regard to employer-employee dynamics, the guide further noted that the relationship between them was “substantially unbalanced” given the latter’s dependence on the former for their employment, making it difficult for organizations to rely on “consent” as the legal basis for data. processing.

“It is unlikely that an employee is free to give their consent, as the fear of refusal or the real risk of harmful consequences of refusal will affect their decision to consent. Therefore any introduction of new technologies in the workplace or the use of AI [artificial intelligence] means that the employer is unlikely to use the consent and will be obliged to use another legal basis, ”the statement said.

All this, the instructions added, should be supported by broader trade unions, so that technology-related issues can be used to deepen interaction with and between workers.

“Consultations are more important when members are fully involved, so this issue is an opportunity to interact with members. Regular meetings of members to keep them informed of progress, as well as to receive feedback and comments from now on, are very important, “the message reads.” Members working in different fields / departments may have views and ideas to contribute contribution to the case. “

Prospect claims that several groups of workers are currently negotiating with employers about the future use of data and digital technologies, and the guide itself lists a number of examples where Prospect members have been involved in negotiations about data use and automation at work.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) in a joint technical briefing on healthy and safe telecommuting said businesses and governments should set clear limits on invasive surveillance in the workplace and support the “right of workers to disconnect” to reduce the negative effects on physical and mental health of telecommuting using digital technology.

In August 2021, the Office of the UK Information Commissioner (ICO) launched a public consultation on the use of personal data by employers, including in workplace monitoring technologies to be used to update existing employment practice guidelines.

Although the consultation ended in October 2021, the ICO has not yet published any findings.

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