Who Tracks the Trackers?
Is monitoring and surveillance getting out of control at work? This question is beginning to concern an increasing number of our members. We are told that surveillance systems at work and in society are there to safeguard staff, clients, and the wider community, but they increasingly seem to be about squeezing staff to work harder and under mounting pressure.
The Labour Research Department (LRD) produced a detailed guide on ‘Monitoring and Surveillance at Work’ late last year, developed after surveying a wide range of union members, and it is definitely worth a read:
“The emergence of new technological devices means that the opportunity and temptation for employers to engage in either overt or covert surveillance of their staff continues to expand. High levels of employer control and monitoring, work intensification and task monotony are a recipe for work-related stress, especially when combined with target setting, job insecurity and, in customer-facing roles, a requirement to stay positive and “on-message”. ?
Surveillance and monitoring systems included CCTV, vehicle tracking, using hand-held digital devices, and recording of calls in call centres. Many of these are familiar to our members already, but we have received reports of an increased use of vehicle tracking. We are concerned about the way in which data has been used to performance manage or discipline employees, for example, if they take the ‘wrong route’. However, as a TUC report shows, what these systems are failing to achieve is additional protection for our members. They report that one in eight people have experienced violence at work. This research and the direct experience of our members suggests that we should be demanding a re-think and re-focusing of monitoring and surveillance.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has produced a useful Employment Practices Code to aid employers in complying with the Data Protection Act and to encourage good practice. Part 3 of the Code covers monitoring at work. Among the key principles outlined in the Code include: Workers should be aware of the nature, extent and reasons for any monitoring and whether it reflects the risk. Employers should consider communication and effective supervision by managers rather than continuous monitoring or targeted systems where there is a high risk to safety. We would also encourage reps to request to also look at ‘Privacy Impact Assessments’ (PIA), keeping these under regular review, resisting vigorously any use of data that abuses the privacy of staff or is detrimental to their well-being.
Employers should take note that if this situation is not brought under control, it will become the cause of industrial unrest. Three hundred Unite members at KONE recently too strike action over a ‘Spy in the cab’ system. While Unite did not oppose its use for health and safety reasons, the VAMS system being used was unreliable method and therefore not suitable for measuring workloads, which was how it was being used.
Unite will continue to challenge the misuse of these systems with our reps and members, whilst also promoting safe working practices and conditions, so please get in touch with your local rep or branch officer if you have concerns or would like to be involved in the campaign.