Next Frontier For Unions —Ethical AI and Workers' Data Protection

Next Frontier For Unions —Ethical AI and Workers' Data Protection

Release of ground-breaking principles on workers' data rights and ethical AI by UNI Global Union. Apply these principal in collective agreements and international labour standards

NYON, Switzerland— UNI Global Union has released ground-breaking principles that establish new rules for governing the future world of work. The principles, to be applied to union contracts and international labour rights standards, are the first comprehensive benchmarks to give workers and their unions a voice in data collection and artificial intelligence on the job.

“Data collection and artificial intelligence are the next frontier for the labour movement. Just as unions established wage, hour, and safety standards during the Industrial Revolution, it is urgent that we set new benchmarks for the Digital Revolution,”

said UNI General Secretary Philip Jennings. UNI represents 20 million service and skills workers in 150 countries.

Data the new oil

Data is rapidly becoming the global economy’s most valuable resource, and currently, workers have no control over the mountains of data their employers collect on them. At the same time, some technologists warn of a jobs apocalypse spurred by technological advancements. These developments, if left unchecked, will spur greater global inequality. 

UNI’s “Top 10 principles for workers’ data privacy and protection” provides a framework to address companies’ growing use of data to inform decisions such as hiring and firing with few rules protecting workers’ data protection and privacy. One key principle is that workers must have the right to data collected on them, including the right to have data corrected, blocked, or erased. This data should also be portable—a demand especially important for platform workers, who have hundreds-of-hours of equity in their ratings.

Right of Explanation

Another critical principle is the ‘right of explanation’, meaning that workers must be able to see what data employers are collecting and how it is used to inform management decisions to hire, fire, discipline or promote workers. Without this right, UNI says, there will be inadequate checks and balances on management decisions, and no possibility to check whether they are using data in ethical, non-discriminatory ways.

The document also gives guidelines for biometric data, data transparency, on the use of location tracking through so-called wearables, and the set-up of company-wide data governance committees.

Transparent, responsible AI

Addressing AI’s power to displace workers and disrupt jobs, UNI Global Union’s “Top 10 principles for Ethical Artificial Intelligence” provides concrete demands regarding its transparency and application. It is estimated that over 50 percent of the work currently done by humans can be faster and more efficiently done by automated systems, and workers are already seeing both displacement and benefits of this technology.

UNI principles will help ensure that AI serves both humanity and the planet by adopting a “human-in-command” approach; being unbiased, including race, gender, and sexual orientation; supporting fundamental freedoms and right; and not being used for weaponry or war.

Case - UNI Affiliate FNV

One example of UNI’s principles in progress is Dutch union FNV’s current negotiations with employers in the janitorial sector about the role of AI and robotics in cleaning. The union is proactively bargaining to ensure that new technologies in the sector improves the quality of life and the quality of work for cleaners — and not simply displacement. FNV are advocating a strategy of co-creation, complementarity, and co-ownership in the process of robotization in the sector.

UNI Global Union is also calling for a global convention on ethical AI that will help address, and work to prevent, the unintended negative consequences of AI while accentuating its benefits to workers and society.

Jennings added, “All stakeholders must be at the table so that innovation benefits the many—not only the few—and our current situation shows that we cannot trust tech companies and employers to make the best decisions for our society. Without meaningful participation of the global labour movement, data will be used to widen already massive chasm between the haves and the have-nots, undermine the self-determination, and weaken our democracies.”

Podcast w Christina Colclough

Listen to Christina, UNIs digital expert, explain why we needs these principles and even urgently so in this podcast. In a lively chat with LO-Norway's Nina Hanssen, Christina gives us real-life stories illustrating how management already uses data in workplaces to hire, fire and discipline workers. UNIs principles aim to ensure your human rights!