In defence of workers’ data

In defence of workers’ data

European Court of Human Rights ruling will mean that employers will have to give more explicit warnings to staff if they want to monitor internet use. UNI welcomes this, but wants more

On September 5, a European Court of Human Rights judgement, which could spur similar claims across Europe, has reinforced the rights of employees to have a significant degree of privacy when sending and receiving workplace emails. The Court ruled that an employer “cannot reduce private social life in the workplace to zero. Respect for private life and for the privacy of correspondence continues to exist, even if these may be restricted in so far as necessary.” As a consequence of the ruling, employers will have to give more explicit warnings to staff if they want to monitor internet use.

UNI Global Union welcomes the ruling. Philip Jennings explains:

“It is an important ruling, and a timely one too. Nothing less than a significant lever for people and unions to build data ethics. UNI Global Union’s World Executive Board will be discussing workers’ data rights and protection in a months’ time. We need to bolster information and consultation rights concerning data monitoring, storing, handling and use in workplaces, and we need to underline that workers should have a say in how this is down.”

Employers must commit to collect data and only the right data for the right purposes and only the right purposes, to be used by the right people and only the right people and for the appropriate amount of time and only the appropriate amount of time

Philip Jennings, UNI Global Union

Worldwide employers are increasingly mining data, not only from their customers, but also from their employees. This can be biometric data or other types of personally identifiable data. But it can also come from workflow monitoring. Bar in Europe, where the General Data Protection Regulation partially covers workers’ rights, many workers across the world have no right over this data.

Jennings continues:

“As data has become the new gold, terabyte upon terabyte of data is mined every day. We must ascertain that employers act responsibly. They must adhere to the data minimalization principle and collect data and only the right data for the right purposes and only the right purposes, to be used by the right people and only the right people and for the appropriate amount of time and only the appropriate amount of time."

UNIs World Executive Board will be discussing workers’ right of explanation when data has been used in automated decisions, good data governance, sustainable data processing safeguards, transparency and fundamental rights and more.


The ECHR ruling covers one element of data monitoring, and will most likely create precedence for the entire field of workplace data mining, storing and handling, and not least workers’ rights. UNI Global Union is together with IEEE, pioneering work on Transparent Employer Governance of Employee Data. The working group welcomes new members that wish to contribute to creating a global standard in this field. Jennings concludes:

“The entire field of transparent, responsible data handling, use and storage is of utmost importance. Employers must involve their employees in an open, constructive way. We must have safeguards in place, and any employee at any time must have the right to this data, and not least to have it deleted if they, for example, leave the company. Social dialogue and collective agreements are the way forward."