Issue date
Workers agree standards for introducing innovation
Councils, health boards and the Welsh government have agreed to give workers a strong voice in designing the future of high-tech public services.

Unions have agreed with local authority and health board chiefs that workers must have a strong voice when new technologies are introduced.

Employers have agreed to five fair work standards which must apply when digital tools and systems are introduced to the workplace.

The five principles are:

  • Employee voice and participation
  • Flexible and secure job change
  • Opportunity for progression and growth
  • Health, safety and well-being
  • Respecting workers’ rights

New technology can offer many benefits to workers. In particular, mundane and repetitive tasks could be made a thing of the past. This could give staff more time to directly serve the public and engage in more rewarding work.

On the other hand new technology can put workers at risk. Issues include: 

  • managers using computer programmes to allocate work and placing unrealistic burdens on staff;
  • managers using tools to monitor workers in an intrusive way;
  • technology replacing jobs.

The agreement was reached at the Workforce Partnership Council, chaired by Hannah Blythyn, MS, the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership and endorsed by the Welsh Local Government Association, the NHS Employers, the Welsh Government and its agencies.  The principles will be part of an existing ‘Partnership and Managing Change’ agreement.

Hannah Blythyn MS said:

“In the modern workplace digitalisation takes a variety of forms from the use of automated machinery, to the application of sophisticated data analysis or the use of complex and intelligent computer systems. Whilst technology has the potential to offer significant benefits to both organisations and workers, it also raises a number of fundamental questions about the future of work. I hope these new principles for digitalisation will be adopted widely and help to ensure workers benefit when new technologies are introduced.”

According to TUC research, aspects of the employment relationship - for example, decisions on recruitment, line management, monitoring and training - are increasingly being managed by artificial intelligence.

When the TUC asked workers about their experience of technologies making or informing decisions about them at work, 22 per cent said they had experience of these technologies being used for absence management, 15 per cent for ratings, 14 per cent for work allocation, 14 per cent for timetabling shifts, and 14 per cent in the assessment of training needs and allocation.

Shavanah Taj, General Secretary of Wales TUC said:

“This new national agreement on digitalisation could be of real benefit to workers. It can ensure they and members of the public all gain from the latest technology.
“The next step will be to put the deal into practice. Workers in every public body that come under the Welsh government are now entitled to ask their manager to agree to these standards. Wales TUC will be working with unions to encourage take up across the country.”

Editors note

The Principles for Digitalisation are a new annex to the updated Partnership and Managing Change Agreement which are available on the Workforce Partnership Council’s webpages.

In November 2020, the TUC published Technology managing people - The worker experience.  The report raised awareness of the experience of workers and trade unions when artificial intelligence (AI) is used by employers to carry out people-management functions, and to identify objectives to ensure that the interests of workers are not overlooked in the use of AI.  BritainThinks conducted an online survey of 2133 workers in England and Wales between 31 July and 5 August 2020. All respondents were either in work, on furlough or recently made redundant.  This research is the sources of the statistics quoted above.