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Union reveals that half of workers don’t know what data their boss collects about them

12 February 2020

What data does your boss collect about you? Half of us don’t know according to new research from Prospect.

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The union surveyed over 7,500 workers and found that 48% were not confident they knew what data their employer collected about them and 34% were not confident that this data would be used in an appropriate way.

The findings come at a time when anxiety about data collection and use is growing, with workplaces set to become an increasingly important frontier in the battle for control over personal data. There is also growing corner that the government may water down data rights currently guaranteed at an EU-level under GDPR.

In addition to digitally held personal data used for recruitment, management or other HR processes, this may now include data gathered through technologies such as location tracking, keystroke monitoring, audio recording, CCTV, or wearable devices such as Fitbits.

Such data is playing an increasing role in how employers recruit, manage, or reward their workforces. Often this can lack transparency or accountability, increasing the risk of ill-founded, unfair or discriminatory decision-making. In some cases it may involve data being fed into “black box” algorithms or Artificial Intelligence systems, or passed to external consultancies to whom processing has been outsourced.

There is also a growing industry of “data brokers” offering ways for organisations to “monetize” any data they hold for commercial purposes. This may range from personal information used for direct marketing or credit scoring to the behavioural patterns used in data inferencing.

Consultants Deloitte have warned that employers “need robust security safeguards, transparency measures, and clear communication around their people data efforts – or they could trigger employee privacy concerns and backlash over data abuse”

Data is also becoming an increasing focus for the work of trade unions who are fighting to ensure that workers’ data rights are protected and that decisions made by AI are transparent and open to challenge.

Prospect also argues that unions have a critical role to play in helping to manage the deeper integration of technology into the workplace, as without collective employee voice and representation there is a risk of a complete breakdown of trust among employees.

Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary said:

“The next wave of technological change at work has the potential to make work much better for millions of us, but it simply won’t work if workers don’t trust their bosses with their data.

“Employers need to be far more transparent about what data they are collecting on their workforce and how it is being used, we cannot sleepwalk into a situation where your boss can track your location on your work phone without you having any idea.

“If the government are serious about improving productivity through technology, then we need safeguards to make sure that we have the rights to match the new world of work, this must include empowering the collective voice of workers to influence change in the workplace.”

Prospect is calling for

  1. A right to privacy. Explicit commitments on employers’ collection and use of employee data should be included in employee contracts, collective agreements and bargaining processes, and in employee privacy notices required by GDPR rules.
  2. A right to disconnect – including, as well as safeguards against excessive expectations of out-of-hours availability and responsiveness, rights to privacy from monitoring systems such as vehicle tracking or wearables during personal time. This need not entail one-size-fits-all rules, but should be negotiated between workers and employers through collective bargaining or other processes of employee voice.
  3. A right to challenge and codetermination. Employees and their representatives should have the right to check and challenge how their data is used in employers’ decision-making processes, and share in the oversight and governance of employers’ data strategies, for example through representation on ethics committees and early consultation and involvement in the development of new proposals to gather, process or monetise data.
  4. Adaptation of existing data and equality regulations to protect individual and collective rights. We want a duty on employers to consult on changes to how data is used, including on the design and introduction of new data tools. Guidance should be provided the ICO on how GDPR can be used to protect workers in the use of HR and derived data. Data laws should focus on the lifecycle of data with a presumption for transparency about why data is collected, how it is stored, rules shaping algorithms or machine learning, and safeguard over how data is used. This must include how data is used, not just inputs. For example, on whether data is aggregated and sold, how inferences and derived data are used, how workforce profiles are put together and used, and how decisions are made about workers.
  5. Involving worker voices in setting regulation and industry guidance. Unions and worker representatives are not represented in the governance of many of the bodies established by government and regulators. For example, there is no mention of worker voice or involvement in the government’s AI Strategy, and workers are not represented on key bodies, such as the AI Council, Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. This must change.

Read more, and download the full briefing here.