A union voice in AI at work

18 April 2023

The TUC brought together unions, politicians, academics and employers to share ideas about how we can ensure that everyone benefits from advances in technology at work, for the AI@Work conference today.

Picture of the TUC AI conference

The conference was held as part of a wider campaign from The TUC to give workers a right to explainability – so that workers are able to understand how technology is being used to make decisions about them – and a statutory duty for employers to consult before new AI is introduced.

The first session ‘The governance of AI at work: what does the future hold and how can we ensure that everyone benefits from the use of AI?’ with David Davis MP, Chi Onwurah MP, Renata Samson (Ada Lovelace Institute) and Robert Bancroft (EHRC) focused on the important role policy makers, unions and regulators have in ensuring workers’ voices are built into the advancement of these technologies.

Prospect’s Andrew Pakes opened the speaker contributions for the second session ‘When AI is the Boss: what does this mean for workers, unions and employers?’ Andrew discussed our work as a union in the tech sector supporting members at Twitter who were subject to a digital lockout late last year.

Andrew also highlighted the work Prospect is doing training reps around digital rights and data protection with the launch last year of our digital tech guide for reps. A guide we launched to help our union reps negotiate with employers about the use of digital technology in the workplace.

Finally, Andrew stressed the need for unions to be the key player in redressing the balance between power and accountability when it comes to AI because ultimately there is always a boss behind any given technology who can be negotiated with.

Andrew said: “It isn’t an algorithm just doing things to our members, it’s a manager using and deploying that algorithm.”

The panel then went on to discuss the importance of unions using data to campaign, the need for a union role in clarifying how AI affects the relationship between employer and worker and the need for tougher regulation in this area.

TUC tweet on conference

The final session was on ‘The AI revolution in education, the performing arts and the public sector’ Chaired by Mary Towers (TUC) with Sonja Hall (NASUWT), Liam Budd (Equity), Christina Colclough (TheWhyNotLab), and Kam Gill (TUC).

The fascinating discussion explored the sectoral implications of AI for unions and the question of who truly benefits from AI, the employer or the worker.

Liam Budd from Equity spoke about how AI has created new implications for the use and manipulation of likenesses, voices, and performances with a range of potential benefits and harms for the creative industries.

During the panel Kamaljeet Gill summed up the TUC AI at Work conference with his final remarks: “All negative outcomes from technology have been called inevitable, until they have been challenged and prevented. This is the role of the trade union movement.”

worker at screen with text projected onto face

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