Businesses using AI 'should have legal duty to consult with unions'

TUC calls for increased legal protections for workers in order to tackle workplace discrimination

Employers seeking to use “high-risk” artificial intelligence (AI) technology should be legally obligated to consult with trade unions, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said.

The federation, which represents the majority of trade unions in England and Wales, is calling for increased legal protections for workers as the use of AI for employee-related decision-making, such as hiring and firing, becomes more common in the workplace.

Recent examples of this in action include claims made by former Uber Eats workers, who accused the food delivery service of unfair dismissal after the facial identification software used by the company was incapable of recognising their faces. The system, known as a “photo comparison” tool, asks Uber couriers and drivers to take a photograph of their face, which is then authenticated using AI by comparing it to a photograph in the company’s database.

According to TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, “AI is being used to make important, life-changing decisions about people at work; decisions like who gets a job and who is made redundant”.

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O’Grady warned that instead of “delivering benefits for all”, the use of AI has the potential to “entrench inequalities, unfair treatment and unsafe working practices”.

“Our prediction is that left unchecked, the use of AI to manage people will also lead to work becoming an increasingly lonely and isolating experience, where the joy of human connection is lost,” she added.

Apart from “a statutory duty to consult trade unions in relation to the deployment of high-risk AI and ADM systems in the workplace”, the TUC also proposed making amendments to current legislation, such as UK GDPR, in order to make them more reflective of the current workplace as well as its technology.

For instance, employees should have the right to ‘in-person engagement’ when important, high-risk decisions are being made about their employment status at the workplace. If a decision was made using an algorithm, the employee should also have “a comprehensive and universal right to human review”.

Moreover, employees should be given the “legal right to ‘switch off’ from work so workers can create ‘communication-free’ time in their lives”, according to the federation, an issue which has become increasingly prevalent in a remote working environment.

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