For example, the UK government’s Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is the only AI specific legislation to come forward this parliament. The Bill proposes to weaken the requirements for consultation, human review of automated decision-making, as well as restricting access to data that can help workers understand on what basis they are being managed.
At the time of publishing this report the Bill is entering the House of Lords stage of the legislative process.
Initiatives to address consultation on AI have also arisen in the trade union movement. The TUC called for a statutory duty to consult trade unions before an employer introduces AI and automated decision-making systems.
The TUC have also instigated the drafting of an AI and Employment Bill which includes the right to disconnect, digital rights to improve transparency around use of surveillance tech, and a universal right to human review of high-risk decisions made by technology.
These areas will be very important for workers in Wales, therefore we recommend that the Welsh Government continues to seek to influence the UK government on non-devolved matters that will affect workers in Wales in relation to AI.
While concerned about the unaccountable ways in which AI is rolled out in many workplaces, reps and officials expressed the desire to build a positive approach to AI and digitalisation generally.
A full-time officer said, “unions must accept that not all AI is bad - like the use of diagnostic tools in healthcare. If it improves patient outcomes it is a good thing,” she said.
The key concern was how technology can be shaped by humans and not the other way around, and how the benefits and risks will be distributed. As another officer said:
“AI should be the cart and the unions should be the horses leading it. But right now we are being dragged along. The question is how do we put ourselves back in front of the cart?”
Faced with such frustrations, some workers are seeking to get on the front foot and to use AI in a worker centric way. At a further education college, a joint union-management pilot is under development for staff to use AI tools with a focus on its use to reduce and manage workloads.
A rep at the college said:
“AI is probably coming to the classroom, so with this pilot we will try to get hold of it. One of our opportunities is that we drive it.”
The reps at the college recognise the risk of further embedding AI - from it being co-opted by management or creating further problems for workloads and admin. But they are committed to getting on the front foot of a technological change. As one of the reps said,
“’Improve, don’t dehumanise’, that should be the aim of any innovative technology!”
Discussions about the pilot raised wider issues about the implications of AI. As noted above there was concern at inconsistent advice and statements from exam boards and others on the admissibility of students' work which had used AI, and where responsibility sat for tackling plagiarism.
Another important example of worker engagement is taking place at a national level. The WPC has established a working group on AI with equal numbers of seats for unions, employers and the Welsh Government. The group will review progress against actions of the WPC report ‘The future of work: the impact of innovative technology on the workforce’.
Furthermore, the group will consider the implications of AI for the public sector workforce and determine the principles, information, advice, and guidance needed to embed social partnership and employee rights in employers’ practices.