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6 in 10 working people fear that greater workplace surveillance through technology will fuel distrust (65%) and discrimination (66%), according to research for I’ll Be Watching You, a new TUC report published today (Friday).

The study reveals that most UK workers (56%) believe they are currently monitored by their boss at work.

This can take a variety of forms such as:

  • Monitoring internet use, keystrokes and through webcams
  • Location tracking by handheld or wearable devices
  • Recording time away from work tasks (for example timing toilet breaks)
  • The use of facial recognition software to assess workers’ moods

Workers worry that this surveillance data will be used by bosses to set unfair targets, micromanage them and take away control and autonomy.

Snooping outside of work

Three-quarters (74%) of workers say bosses should be banned from monitoring them outside of working hours. But a third (33%) think that their activity on social media accounts is being snooped on when they are not at work.

Lack of a say

Most workers (70%) think workplace monitoring will become more common in the future. But only a minority (38%) say they feel able to challenge forms of surveillance that they feel uncomfortable with.

Workers said that the least acceptable forms of surveillance are:

  • The use of facial recognition software and mood monitoring (76% against)
  • The monitoring of social media accounts outside of work (69% against)
  • The recording of a worker’s location on wearable or handheld devices (67% against)
  • The monitoring of keyboard strokes (57% against)

Stronger protections

The vast majority of workers (79%) say employers should be legally required to consult their workforces and reach agreement before using surveillance.

The TUC says that while proper enforcement of the new general data protection regulations (GDPR) may help, new safeguards are needed to ensure that employers respect workers’ rights to privacy and prevent employers using excessive or intrusive surveillance at work.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Employers must not use tech to control and micromanage their staff.

“Monitoring toilet breaks, tracking every movement and snooping on staff outside of working hours creates fear and distrust. And it undermines morale.

“New technologies should not be used to whittle away our right to privacy, even when we’re at work. Employers should discuss and agree workplace monitoring policies with their workforces - not impose them upon them.

"Unions can negotiate agreements that safeguard workers’ privacy while still making sure the job gets done. But the law needs to change too, so that workers are better protected against excessive and intrusive surveillance.”

The TUC is calling for new protections to prevent excessive and intrusive surveillance at work:

  • Employers should only use surveillance for legitimate reasons that protect the interests of workers, such as ensuring people can work safely.  
  • Where unions are recognised, their agreement must be reached for any use of workplace surveillance.
  • Tougher enforcement is needed to ensure all workers in all workplaces are informed of any monitoring arrangements and the reasons for their use.
  • Stronger unfair dismissal rules are needed, along with updating of the information commissioner’s (ICO) code on employment practices to account for new technology. Courts and tribunal should take into account breaches of the Code when deciding if a dismissal is lawful.
  • Union members campaigning on workplace issues on social media must be protected from employer retaliation.
Editors note

- Full report: A copy of the full report I’ll Be Watching You can be accessed under embargo from here: www.tuc.org.uk/research-analysis/i%E2%80%99ll-be-watching-you

- Research: Britain Thinks carried out an online survey of 2,100 members of the UK public conducted between 18th – 21st May 2018, following a series of focus groups with office and non-office-based workers. Results are weighted to be representative of the adult UK population.

- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 49 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

- Media credentials for TUC Congress: Congress 2018 will be held in Manchester Central from Sunday 9 September to Wednesday 12 September. Free media passes can be obtained by visiting www.tuc.org.uk/applying-media-or-external-visitor-credentials and completing an online form. Applications must be in by noon on Tuesday 28 August. Any received later than that will be processed in Manchester and will cost £75.