Employers should be under a legal requirement to consult workers before monitoring them using artificial intelligence or other surveillance tools, according to the TUC.
The unions’ congress said the long-running scandal involving sub-postmasters who were falsely accused of stealing money due to a fault with their accounting software showed the potential risks of using technology to monitor staff.
Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office prosecuted 736 sub-postmasters and mistresses based on information from a computer system called Horizon. A number went to prison following convictions for false accounting and theft, and recently campaigners won the right to have their cases reconsidered.
Its report, published today, shows that around 60% of employees have been subject to some form of technological surveillance and monitoring in their current or most recent role, up from 53% last year.
How to consult collectively with a remote workforce during the coronavirus pandemic
Agreement on information and consultation with employees
Three in 10 employees said the level of monitoring had increased since the start of the Covid pandemic.
The TUC said that without stronger regulation to protect employees, technology could serve up evidence that might lead to discrimination or unfair treatment.
The organisation published a corresponding report last year, highlighting “huge gaps” in UK employment law over the use of AI at work, claiming it is already being used to “make life-changing decisions about people at work, like who gets hired and fired”.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “The Post Office scandal must be a turning point. Nobody should have their livelihood taken away by technology.
“Workers must be properly consulted on the use of AI and be protected from its punitive ways of working.
“It’s time for ministers to bring forward the long-awaited Employment Bill to give workers a right to disconnect and properly switch off outside of working hours.
“Worker surveillance tech has taken off during this pandemic, and risks spiralling out of control. Employers are delegating serious decisions to algorithms, such as recruitment, promotions and sometimes even sackings.”
More than 80% of respondents to the survey supported a legal requirement on employers to consult before using such tools.
Some countries in Europe already offer employees protection from technology-driven decision making. In Spain, unions are able to access algorithms used by gig economy companies such as Uber, so they can monitor working conditions and ensure people are not being underpaid.