Data, automation and AI in the time of Covid-19

Data, automation and AI in the time of Covid-19

UNI hosts affiliate workshop on how Covid-19 may erode workers’ rights to privacy and to disconnect. The workshop was the first of four. It gathered over 70 affiliates from Argentina to Australia!

Last week, over 70 participants from unions all over the world participated in a UNI Global Union workshop entitled “What’s all this about data, AI and automation – an introduction/recap.” It was the first of four workshops that UNI’s Director of Platform and Agency Workers, Digitalization and Trade Christina Colclough is hosting this month.

The workshop busted some myths about digitalization and covered one of the key questions facing workers right now -- how will the Covid-19 crisis impact workers’ digital rights and impinge on their right to disconnect?

“Across the economy, this crisis has changed how we work,” said Christy Hoffman, UNI General Secretary. “And these workshops are opportunities for trade unions from around the world to learn from each other’s experience and expertise.”

How Covid-19 is already impacting UNI affiliates

Amid the chaos and the trauma of the Covid-19 crisis, workers’ rights and privacy are being eroded. The UN special rapporteur on privacy has warned that strict surveillance measures adopted to monitor citizens during coronavirus lockdowns could result in the long-lasting theft of personal freedoms, and employers have been reported to be panic buying spying software to keep tabs on their workers

“Even before this crisis, employers have been using digital tools to monitor whether you’re doing your work as effectively as you can, and these kinds of issues will become particularly relevant over the next few months,” said Mika Makela from Finland.

“This workshop is particularly relevant today with the situation of the world,” said Gareth Murphy from FSU Ireland. “We’ve seen first-hand that remote working often goes hand in hand with increased surveillance. The subsequent work-related stress and mental health challenges will be a huge issue for our members all over the world in this period.”

The right to disconnect will be more important now than ever and we need to push this as a human right for our members,” he continued.

“In Latin America, companies haven’t really cottoned on to the phenomenon of surveying their workers, but we are worried that Covid-19 will be an incentive for employers to push this new wave of surveillance tech on their staff. Working from home is putting an enormous strain on workers, who need to train themselves on digital tools and are having a hard time adjusting to learning new digital tools,” said Sofia Scasserra from FAECYS Argentina.

Andrew Pakes from Prospect in the UK said, “We’ve fought for such a long time for flexibility on remote work and now, almost overnight we’re all working from home and are proving that it can be done. The power still resides with the employer and we need to ask ourselves – is working from the home the new normal? How do we create solidarity between our members if everyone is separated?”

Protecting workers in the ‘new normal’

Colclough reflected: “Workers’ digital rights and the right to disconnect are fundamental to decent work, to upholding our privacy rights and to a healthy work-life balance. This crisis has shown all too clearly how our work and private lives are dependent on digital infrastructures and tools. We must fight for our rights and protect our integrity. The best place to start is through collective agreements that include strong provisions on workers’ data rights, employers obligations to transparency and accountability and the right to disconnect. This first workshop united unionists from across the world. Our voice will be heard.”.


UNI’s Colclough will host three more workshops for affiliates this month. The next ones will focus on workers’ data rights, UNI’s soon-to-be launched app WeClock and lastly the Future of Skills.