These are the key worker and trade union objectives that have emerged from the first stage of the TUC’s AI project
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This report is intended to raise 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.
Over the past few years, there has been nothing short of a technological revolution going on at work.
However, while the impact of automation on functions such as the manufacture of goods and provision of retail services is well recognised, far less attention has been given to the rapid development of AI to carry out management functions.
Aspects of the employment relationship (for example, decisions on recruitment, line management, monitoring and training) are increasingly being managed by AI, instead of by a person.
When we asked workers about their experience of technologies making or informing decisions about them at work, 22 per cent who responded said they had experience of use of technologies of this type 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.
The use of AI in this way has significant implications for workers in terms of their employment rights, such as their rights to equality, privacy, and data protection, their physical and mental wellbeing, and wider issues such as the balance of power between employers and the workforce, and democracy at work.
And yet many people do not know what these AI-powered management tools are, how they operate, and what their impact is. Indeed, it is very likely that these technologies are far more widespread than our survey results suggest.
When we asked workers whether it was possible that the AI-powered technologies we had highlighted to them were being used at their workplace, but that they were just not aware of this, a shocking 89 per cent that responded said either “yes” or “not sure”.
We suspect this is largely due to a lack of consultation and transparency regarding the use of AI at work, and in relation to the collection, use and ownership of worker data.
Our research revealed that only 28 per cent of workers are comfortable with technology being used to make decisions about people at work.
This report highlights these issues by considering:
Our report is informed by a TUC survey of both workers and trade union reps, as well as BritainThinks polling and a literature review.
The report is the product of the first stage of a TUC project on AI and the employment relationship.
The second stage of the project will build on the objectives identified in this report. These objectives include achieving stronger consultation and transparency over the use of AI at work, a focus on the importance of worker wellbeing, achieving fair, lawful use of AI that is accessible and useful to all, and increasing worker control and understanding of data.
A legal and policy report with recommendations for reform will follow in early 2021, and a guide for trade union representatives later in 2021.
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