Worldwide, workers and their representatives are being confronted with algorithmically-driven automation in the workplace – through the introduction of specific automated procedures to manage the workforce, leading to new forms of workplace surveillance and possibly undermining workers’ rights. As our new report shows, trade unions are now called upon to focus on practical advice and guidance to empower union representatives and negotiators to deal with the challenges that automation puts onto workers.
The AlgorithmWatch report, commissioned by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), presents the findings of a global mapping exercise aimed at identifying and sketching responses of trade unions. With the focus on transparency and accountability of algorithms in the world of work, the report includes exemplary insights from 26 select countries.
“Trade unions acknowledge that transparency and accountability can help against risks arising from automation in the workplace”, Dr Anne Mollen, Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager at AlgorithmWatch and lead author of the report, explains. “But mostly their activities still center around formulating ethical guidelines and principles and learning about the impact of automation in the world of work.”
According to the study’s authors, the next step now is to start creating specific hands-on tools to support worker representatives. First hands-on guides and legislative advances exist.
“Now is the time to foster more exchange between and support for unions to make automation work in the interest of employees”, says Tim Noonan, Director Campaigns and Communications at the ITUC. “Trade unions must move from reflection on principles to practical implementation and start addressing how workers and their representatives can meaningfully integrate their interest when algorithmic systems are being planned, developed and put into practice.” This includes building concrete systems and safety mechanisms that can be implemented at company level.
The report advises that an inter-union exchange of effective strategies could also be an important tool that until now has not been fully taken advantage of. As algorithmic management touches in its core the terms and conditions of employment, we cannot understate the importance of these issues.
The research was conducted on behalf of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The ITUC represents 200 million workers in 163 countries and territories and has 332 national affiliates. As the world’s main global confederation of national union centres, its’ mandate is focused on the protection of workers’ rights, social and economic justice, anti-discrimination, Just Transition to a zero-carbon future, development, peace and democracy.