Workplace surveillance & worker data trusts

A brief alert for an important upcoming event tomorrow, part of the Australia At Home series, about workplace surveillance and workers’ rights.

A few years ago in 2016, when I led UnionsACT, the ACT Government attempted to introduce regressive workplace surveillance laws. These laws would have allowed employers to conduct covert surveillance of workers outside of the workplace. Read my media release from 2016 here.

Thanks to the campaign I led, with the support of a number of unions, especially the CPSU and CFMEU, two years later we were able to stop the implementation of the laws and convinced the ACT Government to scrap them altogether. See the Canberra Times article about the win here.

However, the campaign and the fact that the laws were introduced in the first place, demonstrates the major problem of the surveillance of workers. In almost every jurisdiction in Australia, there are punitive and anti-worker laws that give broad powers to employers to surveil workers.

This surveillance of workers is something I have written about several times before — especially here.

The Australia At Home event tomorrow looks at the NSW Upper House Inquiry into the Future of Work – that includes a review of the NSW Workplace Surveillance laws.

Workers in Australia (and globally) are subject to invasive privacy intrusions at work (and increasingly outside of work).

Uniglobal, a major global union federation, has a framework that is an excellent primer to assist unions to understand what is at stake for workers’ data and privacy:

Data has been termed the new gold. It is traded, analysed and used in marketing, advertising and human resource management. It is also the building blocks of artificial intelligence and algorithms. By 2030, it is estimated that 15-20% of the world’s combined GDP will be based on data flows. It too is the very foundation of the myriad of new businesses and services that are increasingly individualising many aspects of our economy and society, namely the platforms of the so-called gig economy.

As citizens, we daily leave a data trail behind us: from what we search for on Google, to the apps on our mobile phones, from rides we take in taxis, flats we rent, from what we buy, to our loyalty cards, our health records, phone calls to customer services. Not to mention the places we visit, emails we send, Facebook friends we have and tweets we write. Doing all of this provides companies with data – about us and our network of friends. Data is simply the biggest gift we don’t realise we are giving away.

We also provide data as workers—our CVs, our biometric data such as our fingerprints or iris scans, and the abundant data mined on us as employers monitor our workflows. Data, or rather sets of data from within and outside of the company, are also used by management in human resource decisions. Who gets hired? Who gets promoted? Should someone be fired or cautioned? Are the workers productive today and if not, why not? The application and use in companies has even spurred the question whether data is taking the human out of human resources.

Whilst data protection and privacy laws do exist in various forms in many countries, the data derived from monitoring workers is not specifically covered by these laws.

Unions need to grapple with the creation, collection, analysis, storage and sale of workers’ data by employers and corporations.

If you can, I encourage you to log into the Australia At Home event tomorrow. Details are here.

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