Prospect launch digital tech guide for reps

11 February 2022

Prospect, the tech and specialist union, has launched a guide to help union reps negotiate with employers about the use of digital technology in the workplace.

Digital technology is changing the way we live and work. According to recent research 1 in 5 companies are already using digital monitoring tools on workers or planning to do so off the back of the COVID pandemic.

Many people work from their phones or laptops when not at work, and some workplaces have started using monitoring software to keep an eye on their workers. Others have begun to use algorithms in HR functions, including hiring and firing, that would previously have been done by a human. The pace of change is such that regulation and workers’ rights have struggled to keep pace.

The pandemic has brought the use of digital technology into sharp relief, with more people working from home at least part of the time. Many report being unable to switch off while others have mentioned monitoring technology being used to watch them in their own homes – quite literally in some cases, with laptop webcams monitoring workers.

Polling commissioned by Prospect last November found that one in three (32%) workers are now being monitored at work – up from a quarter (24%) just 6 months before in April 2021. The polling, which was conducted by respected pollster Opinium, also found that 80% of workers thought that the use of webcams to monitor remote workers should either be banned (52%) or heavily regulated (28%).

Prospect has already been campaigning against the always-on culture and pressures on workers to respond to emails and calls at all hours through the Right To Disconnect, as well as campaigning for stronger rights for workers over digital surveillance and use of AI at work.

Prospect’s guide gives reps and union volunteers a grounding in the issues and a framework to engage with employers, so that people’s rights at work are not undermined by the growing use of technology.

The guide sets out:

  • What the new technologies are, how they are being used, and why it matters
  • The role of unions and the current legal framework
  • A framework setting out how reps can get involved in negotiating with employers on these issues
  • Tools and ideas to help workers organise and campaign to build power and influence employers

Andrew Pakes, Prospect research director, said:

“Data and technology are the new frontline of workers’ rights. Governments have demonstrated that they are always going to be behind the curve on regulating technology, so it is up to unions to make sure workers are protected.

“This new guide equips Prospect reps with the tools they need to be able to negotiate with employers on this issue. It is vital that employers engage with unions and their workforce at the earliest opportunity before introducing new tech or systems – this guide will ensure our reps are able to stand up for their colleagues.

“It is our hope that agreements on data rights and the use of technology will eventually be part of any collective agreement. Tooling up reps to talk about these issues is the first step towards making that a reality.”

Polling conducted for Prospect in late 2021 found that two in three (66%) UK workers want decisions made by AI to be reviewed by humans, with just 13% comfortable with no human review. This figure is consistent across political parties, with 69% of Conservative voters wanting human review of AI decisions.

Prospect is also concerned that those workers most at risk from discrimination caused by the use of AI are also those who least understand the technology. Overall half (50%) of UK workers say they have a good understanding of AI, but this figure is only 39% for women workers (and 61% for men) and just 36% for workers aged over 55, both groups who risk discrimination as a result of inbuilt biases in algorithms.

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Future of work, technology and data

Campaigning for better work for all in the new normal

Information Technology & Telecoms

Prospect represents more than 16,000 people working in Information Technology and Telecoms – one of the UK’s fastest moving industries.