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  • Writer's pictureChristina J. Colclough

Workers’ rights: negotiating and co-governing digital systems at work

Published by Social Europe on September 3, 2020, this article discusses why and how unions should negotiate for much stronger worker data rights and a seat at the table in governing algorithmic systems. Extract below - full article here


Covid-19 has all too clearly shown how digital tools have become an integral part of work—be they used for online meetings or for the increasing surveillance and monitoring of workers at home or in the workplace. Indeed, as businesses try to mitigate the risks and get employees to come back to the workplace, they are introducing a vast array of applications and wearables.

In many cases, employees are left to accept these new surveillance technologies or risk losing their jobs. Covid-19 has thus expanded a power divide which was already growing, allowing the owners and managers of these technologies to extract, and capitalise upon, more and more data from workers.

Strong union responses are immediately required to balance out this power asymmetry and safeguard workers’ privacy and human rights. Improvements to collective agreements as well as to regulatory environments are urgently needed. Coordinated action is needed to defend workers’ rights to shape their working lives, free from the oppression of opaque algorithms and predictive analyses conducted by known and unknown firms.

Negotiating the Data Life Cycle at Work

Unions must negotiate for much stronger data rights for workers across these 4 main stages of the data life cycle at work.

Co-governance of Algorithmic Systems

They also need to demand a seat at the table in the governance of algorithmic systems at work:

Trade unions, especially within the GDPR zone, have a range of rights and tools to limit the threats to workers’ privacy and human rights. These should be utilised and urgently prioritised to prevent the further commodification of workers. Moving towards collective rights over, and co-regulation of, algorithmic systems is an important step in maintaining the power of unions. As the demand for digital tools to monitor and survey workers continues to rise, unions simply cannot afford not to give these issues utmost priority.

Read the full article for a rundown of these key demands!

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