This article was written by Mayra Castro, Public Services International Inter-Americas.
"As trade unionists, we cannot accept that ‘the system’ is more important than the workers"
This statement was made by Christina Colclough during her presentation on the fundamentals of data, artificial intelligence and algorithms in society and at work at PSI's workshop on collective bargaining on digitalisation for negotiators and trade union leaders that took place in Lima on October 16-17.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced everyone to adapt to a new reality in which work and most day-to-day activities moved to the virtual world. Even in the case of professions for with we never imagined this would be possible, including health care and basic education, were moved to the digital world. While this reality existed before the pandemic, it was accelerated and intensified, making the big tech companies even more profitable while workers had to learn how to demand their rights in this new reality. Governments around the world are implementing digital solutions using new technologies with little oversight or accountability.
Christina presented the basic concepts of data and algorithmic systems in our society and at work, "it is the trade union movements, especially those in the public sector, that have the greatest capacity to advance the debate about the power of large digital companies".
Digitalisation of public services is already a reality in many countries and trade unions must work to protect workers' rights so that digital transitions are transparent and inclusive, without letting the systems overtake them. "As trade unionists we cannot accept that ‘the system’ is more important than the workers," said Cristina. While presenting the definition of an algorithm and how its systems work on the basis of data, Cristina reminded us that in the end, it is we humans who determine what algorithms should do, and therefore it is up to trade unions to question their use and demand a more transparent and fairer implementation. It is also up to trade unions to negotiate the right to our data and data protection.
"Data is about power; we have to understand that there is power in data. So we have to think about how we deal with that power in trade unions and how to make those that hold and control data more accountable," said Christina.
A solution to this reality, according to Christina, is that "we have to reshape the digitalisation of work and workers. We, as trade unions, can say that some technologies are good, but we can't do that without reshaping digitalisation. We are being commodified. We must also protect our right to be human."
Unions must negotiate how the data is collected; why and by whom it is analysed; where the data is stored and who has access to it; and at the last stage ask where it ends up after it has been used (offboarding). "The solution to data ownership and the benefits of data is data taxation. We need to stop quantifying people. I hope that we can limit this through collective bargaining," she explained.
Christina presented a guide for the establishment of collective bargaining for the co-governance of algorithmic systems, which includes questions trade unionists can as during the implementation of digital systems in workplaces. Priority areas include transparency, accountability of the tools, right to redo, data protection and rights, threats and benefits, whether it is possible to make adjustments to the tool, and finally co-governance.
Digital Bargaining Hub
PSI’s Digital Bargaining Hub was presented at the end of the workshop. The hub is an online resource for trade unionists and others interested in promoting workers' rights through collective bargaining. It helps users to understand key issues related to the digitalisation of work, and includes real-world bargaining clauses and language that can be adapted and used at the bargaining table.
"We have categorised the information into key topics and subtopics with commentary to help unions find what they need. The information can also be accessed through the database of existing clauses and model texts collected from unions around the world,"
explained Hanna Johnston, an expert who supported the creation of the Hub.
The issue of digitalisation at PSI
Gabriel Casnati, PSI project coordinator responsible for the digitalisation project in the region, explained that the "strategy to grow this in PSI is to make its transversality with the main priorities of the organization clear: the future of trade union organisation, the future of work, freedom of association, democracy, tax justice, human rights, free trade agreements and quality public services".
Read the original article in English and Spanish here