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    Blog Posts (41)
    • A Future of Unsustainable Work?

      Article written for the Danish Insurance Sector Union and published in Danish here. The below is the original English language article Working from home has it’s obvious advantages. You get to skip the long commute times, you can organise your day more freely, you can juggle more things at once, like putting the washing over and hang it up. It also has its disadvantages: you can feel lonely, isolated, or stressed by not having a clear boundary between work life and private life. As a wise woman said to me recently: We are not working from home, we are living at work. COVID-19 has forced us to adapt, think differently and cope. Companies are also adapting. Not least spurred by reports from employees that working from home makes them more productive, many have now decided to let their employees work permanently from home. Facebook, Dropbox, some parts of Google are here taking the lead. Some banks too - allowing traders to trade from home - albeit under a complex monitoring and surveillance system. The advantages for companies are many: an obvious one being that they can substantially reduce their expensive office space. Whilst the here and now is working for the majority, we must dare look into the glass ball and ask what the long-term consequences of remote work might be on work, and on our contracts and collective agreements. The Hybrid Company Let’s dive into it. Have you noticed that the words “hybrid-work” or “hybrid-companies” are already creeping into the daily press? Hybrid work relates to a mix of work forms - working from home, or remotely, to working on location. The hybrid company is one that exists virtually and to a limited degree physically. Here office spaces are vastly reduced, probably decentralised to smaller hubs scattered across the country and/or the world. In this future, workers won’t have a choice as to whether they want to work from home. You will be forced to. The thing is: who are your colleagues? And where are they actually? Nothing prevents a hybrid company from hiring remote workers from entirely different parts of the world. A job is a job and tasks need to be fulfilled. The internet sets no geographical boundaries. Your colleagues might well be in India, Latin America, the Philippines or Svendborg. For the company it doesn’t matter as long as the job gets done. With A.I. driven translation software, even language boundaries become less important. The Rise of Precarious Work Assuming this is a viable future, we then simply must ask what this will mean for our employment contracts? Why would a company continue to offer permanent, open-ended contracts to their workers? Jobs can be broken down into tasks. These tasks can then be put out there on a global labour market and given to whoever the company sees is best qualified. We see this already happening in the rising number of bogus self-employed workers - not least in the gig economy. So you will be left to compete on speed, qualifications and not least price against workers from all corners of the world. It isn’t hard to imagine what implications this will have on wage levels. We simply risk a race to the bottom that will put workers in more expensive parts of the world, you for example, at a huge disadvantage. In a labour market of precarious work, former colleagues will become competitors. You will be pitched out against one another as you bid in on the tasks or projects available. The individualisation of work will be complete. Imagine what this will mean for our mental health, our wellbeing? Our ability to sustain ourselves? Now, I understand if you are slightly spooked at this point, and I also understand if you are thinking that your work is too important for it to be subject to this kind of a future. In a not so distant past, you might well have been right. But the rise of digital tools and their exponential growth will facilitate, for the vast majority of jobs, the transition to a boundaryless, global labour market. On a side note, I need to mention that in current digital trade negotiations, one of the proposals is to remove the requirement that companies have a physical and therefore legal presence in a country in order to sell their services there. If these negotiations succeed, the door is left wide open for, in your case, insurance companies from anywhere in the world to sell insurances in Denmark. This is a first major opening for the establishment of virtual companies. Which in turn will open up for a truly global labour market.. and before we know of it, the glass ball scenario has become real. The union response Only strong trade union action can prevent this future scenario from becoming a reality. Firstly and immediately, shop stewards and trade unions must pay careful attention to what companies are saying about remote work, and on which hires they do, and under which contractual relations. Secondly, trade unions nationally and internationally must get engaged in these digital trade negotiations and speak to their governments about them. In your case, the EU has the negotiation mandate on behalf of member states. Is the Danish government fully aware of the consequences of these negotiations? Thirdly, national unions must demand that their global federations continue to engage in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) to ensure that all workers across the world have decent work and wage levels. Fourthly, we should all recognise that work is work, and all workers should have the same social and fundamental rights. The rise of the gig economy and other forms of precarious work has been facilitated by out-of-date social protection regimes that mean it is an economic advantage for companies to make work more precarious. This has to stop. Fiftly, we need to discuss competition and innovation with the companies. Much research - my own included - proves that strong employer-employee relations, high levels of trust and dialogue facilitate innovation and learning. If work gets broken into pieces and workers get individualised, what will happen to the companies’ ability to adapt and change? Whilst the hybrid company might be a money-saving model, it could also well be the beginning of the end for many companies. And lastly, we need to talk about taxation and push for new models for corporate taxation in a world of no boundaries and no physical presence. This too should be a top priority for your government. Whilst our glass ball scenario here can be seen as overly negative and dramatic, it would be wise not to disregard it. We already have indications that it is a viable future, maybe not tomorrow, nor in a year. But soon. Download the article in Danish by clicking on the image

    • New Report: Teaching With Tech

      Written for the global trade union federation for teachers' unions across the world, Education International, this report sheds light on the digitalisation of education. Strikingly, teachers' training needs are poorly met, digital divides are growing leaving the already disadvantaged in even more precarious situations and teachers and their unions are not involved in the assessment of digital technologies. EdTech is a fast growing industry - with all that that entails of a private-sector power grab into the sector. But where does this leave the human rights and privacy rights of educators and learners alike? Who has the responsibility to check whether these digital tools are exacerbating or bridging inequalities? Are they reaching out to rich areas or poor, urban environments or rural? Are educators with their wealth of knowledge, pedagogy and emotions involved in the assessment of these technologies and their impact on learners? Will educators’ jobs change? Become more intensified, demanding? Digital technologies are not born evil. They are not born good either. It is up to those designing, deploying, and governing them to ensure they are put to a fair, inclusive use. The survey conducted in June, July and August of 2020 sheds light on the challenges of digitalising education. Download the full report below. Read online by clicking on the image above

    • Labour - a Commodity?

      In 1919 and again in 1944 world leaders agreed that labour is not a commodity. Yet today, as data is extracted from workers and they are continiously profiled, labour is being turned into a commodity. An object. We are all becoming a bundle of data points, of statistics and of probability analysis. It has to stop. First some history. In 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, the International Labour Organisation (the ILO) was born out of the belief that universal and lasting peace can only be accomplished if it is based on social justice. Article 427 in the Treaty states: Again in 1944, in the ILO Declaration of Philidelphia, this article was reaffirmed. Article 1(a) states: (a) labour is not a commodity; Now let's fast forward to today. Workers are subjected to digital surveillance and monitoring in various forms. From location tracking, to CCTV, to systems that measure how fast that tap on the keyboard to screen and image captures to check what they are doing, and indeed whether they are sitting in front of the PC or not. Microsoft's Office 365 that turns on the dashboard for employee monitoring by default (see screenshot from https://twitter.com/WolfieChristl below) or Amazon's surveillance of workers and their engangement with union busters Pinkerton in Europe, as reported in Vice on November 23: Internal emails sent to Amazon's Global Security Operations Center obtained by Motherboard reveal that all the division's team members around the world receive updates on labor organizing activities at warehouses that include the exact date, time, location, the source who reported the action, the number of participants at an event (and in some cases a turnout rate of those expected to participate in a labor action), and a description of what happened, such as a "strike" or "the distribution of leaflets." Other documents reveal that Amazon intelligence analysts keep close tabs on how many warehouse workers attend union meetings; specific worker dissatisfactions with warehouse conditions, such as excessive workloads; and cases of warehouse-worker theft, from a bottle of tequila to $15,000 worth of smart watches. Monitoring = data All of these surveillance and monitoring tools extract and create data and data profiles (aka inferences). As reported in previous blog posts we cannot escape this data extraction. it is often hidden from us, and it offers instant feedback to the person/organisation doing the monitoring. The profiles are used for all sorts of probability analyses aimed at predicting our behavior or for efficiency and productivity measuring. Whatever reason a company might have for doing all of these calculations, doesn't remove the fact that they are turning labour into sets of data points, into calculations. Ultimately into objects void of personality, fate, emotions and chance. It's got to stop This cannot be accepted. It has to stop. Let's prove Hegel wrong when he famously said: "The Only Thing We Learn From History Is That We Learn Nothing From History" The ILO was born out of the realisation of the importance of social justice for world peace. There is nothing just about removing workers' autonomy to form and shape their careers and life free from the manipulations of opaque algorithms. We must not accept that a worker never sees a job annoucement because a string of private-company held probability algorithms have deemed that worker unsuitable for a job. If we accept this, we accept our objectification. And we hand the world's tech companies the ultimate control over our lives, our democracies and our fate. We must demand that our politicians read the writing on the will and take immediate action: the markets in human futures must be banned.

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    • Futures of Work | The Why Not Lab | Christina J. Colclough

      Putting workers centre stage in discussions on the futures of work Hub The Hub is the space for our articles, reports, speeches & podcasts. All about the futures of work, workers' data rights, AI & data governance, the future of skills, and much more. Some articles have extra audio commentary too! Huddle >> Tech for Good Workers can beneficially use tech to further a new digital ethos that empowers the voice of the many. We'vbe developed WeClock, the privacy-preserving self-tracking app, and Lighthouse - the guide to good data governance Jump >> Watch & Listen If you are on the lookout for a keynote speaker with a workers' twist, here we are. Check some of our previous speeches and podcasts here. They cover the futures of work, the politics of technology and offer concrete paths forward to responsible work for all Watch >> Hive Turning the digital tides requires coordinated, collective action on many fronts. The Hive is our action spot. Check what we can offer you to boost your digital savyness, help you put strong demands in place and to support your organisational change Swarm >> Engage With the Why Not Lab ​ The Why Not Lab believes that digital technology must be governed collectively. We need to move away from individualism and embrace dialogue to ensure inclusive, diverse and empowering workplaces. Explore our collective actions in the Hive . To govern collectively, we need to capacity build. Train and be trained so you can lead in your sector with confidence and concrete points of action Get inspired by speeches and workshops on why unions and workers need a seat at the digital governance table and what your demands should be Co-develop and negotiate for much stronger collective data rights Harness the power of new and emerging technologies Take the lead on future of work discussions by breaking the myths and offering concrete, innovative solutions Create with your peers a new digital ethos that puts people and planet before everything else

    • Tools | The Why Not Lab

      Tech for Good One of the Why Not Lab's missions is to co-develop and deploy digital technologies that empower minority groups and safeguard human rights. Check out our privacy-preserving self-tracking app . Or the guide to good data governance . is the tool for you to stay in line with your members, staff or networks- WeClock Lighthouse Thoughtexchange WeClock the app for workers by workers WeClock offers a privacy-preserving way to empower workers and unions in their battle for decent work. WeClock gives an indication of the present and changing natu­re of work by providing insight about the: presence or absence of decent or fair work, working conditions, or work/life balance. Built with workers in mind, WeClock empowers change. ​ Check out the app's website here for more info and download links. ​ ​ Thoughtexchange the crowd-sourcing platform As work becomes more precarious, piecemeal and decentralised, we needed a communication tool that could reach all members, no matter where they were and when they worked. Thoughtexchange is that very tool! Read user stories from UNI Global's members and sectors here: (Unions21) Engaging members in new ways Grim Reality for Young Workers Strengthening Union Democracy ​ ​ Contact Thoughtexchange here. ​ Lighthouse Online Tool for Good Data Governance Given that WeClock will be a data-gathering tool for unions, we decided to work with a UK union , along with and , to develop – an online, privacy-preserving tool to help unions become stewards of good data governance. Prospect Digital Public Small Scale Lighthouse ​ Lighthouse takes the form of an online guide - or quiz - where those participating get to rate their methods and practices along a range of topics. ​ courtesy Get Lighthouse of Prospect here Digital Tools for Trade Unions 2019 Report As part of the Young Workers Lab project, we scanned the market for digital tools either built by trade unions or that could be an inspiration for trade unions. Our insights are available in our "Connective Action: Digital Tools for Trade Unions report." Download the report here.

    • About | The Why Not Lab

      About the Why Not Lab The Why Not Lab is run by Dr Christina J. Colclough - a fearless optimist who believes that change for good is possible if we put our minds and heart to it. She works with experts and partners across the world to provide the best advice at all times. Regarded as a thought-leader on the futures of work(ers) and the politics of digital technology, Christina is an advocate for the workers’ voice. She has extensive global labour movement experience, where she led their future of work policies, advocacy and strategies for a number of years. She was the author of the union movement's first principles on Workers' Data Rights and the Ethics of AI . A globally sought-after keynote speaker with over 120 speeches the last 3 years, Christina now supports a wide range of progressive governments and organisations in their digital transformation. She was named as one of the world's most influential women on the Ethics of AI in 2019. ​ Christina is Member of the Steering Committee of the Global Partnership on AI and she is a Member of the Advisory Board of Carnegie Council's new program: AI and Equality Initiative. She is additionally a member of the OECD One AI Expert Group, the UN's Secretary General Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and is affiliated to FAOS , the Employment Relations Research Center at Copenhagen University. Testimonials John C. Havens . E.D., IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous & Intelligent Systems & Council on Extended Intelligence In an environment where rhetoric often rules all, Christina provides hard-hitting yet pragmatic and solutions-oriented counsel on issues including the future of work, human autonomy, human rights, and technology governance in general. ​ She is my "go to" person on any issues related to AI and the future of work based on her specialized knowledge of worker's rights and actual global policy and economics relating to these issues versus only aspirational techno-utopian ideals. She is also a gifted and personable speaker, transforming highly nuanced and complex technical and political issues into conversational, story-oriented speeches. What We're Reading

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