This report is produced by the Wales TUC supported by Connected by Data and Dr Juan Grigera, King's College London.
In this report, we give a snapshot insight into workers in Wales’ current experience of AI. This is intended to inform the union response to AI, and future actions by the Welsh Government and wider partners.
Trade unionists in Wales are quickly adapting and learning in response to increased use of AI. However, we need to do more together. Workers, unions, employers, technologists and the Welsh Government must work hand in hand to realise the opportunities and manage the risks of AI together.
With a social partnership approach, we can ensure that everyone thrives in this new environment with no worker being left behind.
Shavanah Taj, Wales TUC General Secretary
An algorithm is a mathematical rule. Algorithms are used in many different contexts, not just in technology. However, algorithms used in technology are usually a set of rules applied by a computer to come to a decision.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is when computers carry out tasks that you would usually expect to be completed by a human. For example, making decisions or recognising objects, speech and sounds.
The use or introduction of automatic equipment in a manufacturing or other process or facility.
Automated decision-making (ADM) involves the use of data, machines and algorithms to make decisions in a range of contexts, including public administration, business, health, education, law, employment, transport, media and entertainment, with varying degrees of human oversight or intervention.
Digitalisation or digital transformation is the process of adoption and implementation of digital technology by an organisation in order to create new or modify existing products, services and operations by the means of translating business processes into a digital format.
Generative artificial intelligence (also generative AI or GenAI) is artificial intelligence capable of generating text, images, or other media, using generative models. Generative AI models learn the patterns and structure of their input training data and then generate new data that has similar characteristics.
ChatGPT is an example of a generative AI service.
Satellite navigation (or satnav) system which can be used for providing position, navigation or for tracking the position of something fitted with a receiver.
GPS stands for Global Positioning System.
The Workforce Partnership Council (WPC) is a partnership of the trade unions, employers, and Welsh Government. It covers the devolved public services in Wales and is a forum for cross-public services workforce matters.
At its meeting in November 2023 it agreed to establish a working group on AI.
This report summarises key themes from research conducted by Wales TUC on how trade unionists in Wales understand and are engaging with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their workplaces.
The research found that there is a high degree of general awareness by workers that AI is already impacting or will impact their working lives. However, the level of engagement with AI is specific to context, technology and sector. There are cross-cutting concerns spanning this varied experience, including implications for equalities.
While efforts are underway, trade unionists reported that they are generally not yet sufficiently empowered with accessible, contextualised, and detailed information to understand these specific forms and effects of AI they encounter. This is a barrier to an effective response by trade unionists.
This is compounded by widespread frustration with the limited means and tools workers have at their disposal to ensure that the AI and digitalisation transition is fair and worker-centric.
AI presents novel technical, legal, and operational challenges that threaten to deepen power asymmetries in the workplace and wider economy.
However, this dynamic should be seen in a general context of some of the harshest laws governing industrial relations in western Europe, and employment rights that are not designed to empower workers to be active stakeholders in their workplaces, regarding AI or any other issue.
AI then requires specific responses from the trade union movement within a wider project to elevate the power of workers to shape technology in their workplaces and the economy at large.
This report illustrates these themes with selected excerpts from focus groups conducted with trade unionists. A series of next steps and recommendations are suggested for consideration by the union movement in Wales and the Welsh Government.
Artificial intelligence, while present since the 1960s, exploded into popular discourse with the launch of ChatGPT late in 2022. The political high profile and technological development presents many threats, both evident and speculated. However, the disruption has also presented an opportunity; to assert the needs of workers in a social and technological shift, and to contest the current domination - of narratives, practices and policies - by a narrow sliver of perspectives and tech companies.
Despite the intense attention and interest on AI, the conversation has not brought widespread clarity to a complex technological issue. AI encapsulates everything from the most advanced machine learning models to spreadsheet formulae and common algorithms in everyday use.
It has generated furious debate over its specific and general impact on different sectors and society at large. Gaining a clearer picture is an essential precursor to taking action.
Prompted by this, a Resolution on Data and AI was passed at the 2022 Wales TUC Congress to build on the social partnership approach underway in Wales. The resolution called on the Welsh Government to develop a framework for approaching AI that respects the need for worker voice, ‘data justice’, and managing adverse effects on jobs, among other aspects (see appendix).
To support this resolution, Wales TUC undertook to investigate the current experiences of trade unionists in Wales. Connected by Data and Dr Juan Grigera of King's College London supported this initiative.
Polling commissioned by the Prospect union and published in June 2023 found that a majority of workers would like to see government regulation of generative AI at work and would be uncomfortable being subject to surveillance technologies currently active in many workplaces.
Our research sought to gain qualitative and contextualised insight to complement the substantial evidence of a general concern from workers about the impact of AI on jobs and working lives.
Fifty-six union officials, reps, and unionised workers were interviewed in seven focus groups and one briefing that spanned 19 trade unions and seven broadly defined economic sectors (public sector, education, manufacturing, creative industries, retail, telecommunications and logistics).
The research programme sought to:
The project published blog posts of the focus groups as the research was underway. This sought to enable the greater sharing of sector specific detail and contributions by trade unionists.
This report concentrates on the views and experiences of the unionised workers, reps and union officers who participated in the research between July and November 2023.
Trade unionists, reps and officers from the following unions participated:
BDA, Bectu, Community, CWU, Equity, FDA, GMB, the Musicians’ Union, NASUWT, NEU, NUJ, PCS, the Royal College of Podiatry, the Society of Radiographers, UCAC, UCU, UNISON, Unite and the Writers' Guild of Great Britain.
By engaging active lay trade unionists and union officials, this research has qualitative contributions from this cohort.
Conversely therefore this research has limited insight on the experience of non-unionised workers or workplaces with low rates of unionisation. These sectors include those within which AI is expected to have a significant impact but historically have low union density. These sectors include accountancy, legal professions and the services sector such as marketing.
This report does not specifically engage with the experience of platform or gig workers, as the impact of AI in this sector has substantial research to date.
Finally, this research did not investigate particular incidents, as the focus groups sought to gather the reported experiences and perspectives of workers.