Concerns mount over surveillance of remote workers

A new survey for Prospect union finds a big rise in surveillance being used on workers, particularly remote workers.

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One in three workers are now being monitored at work – up from a quarter just six months ago in April, with a doubling of the  use of camera monitoring in people’s homes, according to a poll.

The poll by the union Prospect found 13% of home workers said they were being monitored by cameras compared to 5% six months ago.

The polling, conducted by Opinium, also found that 80% of workers thought that the use of webcams to monitor remote workers should either be banned (52%) or heavily regulated (28%) with only 8% of workers thinking that employers should be allowed to decide unilaterally when to use cameras to monitor people working in their own homes.

The finding comes as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is reviewing guidance to employers on the use of new technologies such as monitoring.

The polling found younger workers (18-34) are more likely to be subject to monitoring than their older colleagues. Overall 48% of younger workers report being monitored at work, including 20% being monitored using cameras.

Prospect says it is concerned that intrusive monitoring is particularly affecting workers in sectors with higher levels of remote working, larger proportions of younger workers and low levels of trade union membership, such as the tech sector.

Prospect is calling for a range of measures to protect employees for intrusive monitoring. They have called on the ICO to toughen the regulation on the introduction of new monitoring technology in workplaces, ensuring that employees are always consulted as part of this technology and there is full transparency on how this tech is used. The union has also called for the government to consider explicitly banning the use of camera monitoring in people’s homes, making it illegal for employers to use webcams to check up on workers outside of meetings and calls.

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “We are used to the idea of employers checking up on workers, but when people are working in their own homes this assumes a whole new dimension.

“New technology allows employers to have a constant window into their employees homes, and the use of the technology is largely unregulated by government.

“We think that we need to upgrade the law to protect the privacy of workers and set reasonable limits on the use of this snooping technology, and the public overwhelmingly agree with us.

“Prospect’s new tech workers sector will be campaigning on this issue and other issues affecting tech workers, and I encourage any workers who are worried about monitoring to join Prospect and support our campaign.”

Anna Thomas, Director of the Institute for the Future of Work think tank said: “IFOW research suggests Covid has driven a significant acceleration in technology adoption by businesses, leading to fundamental changes to the terms, conditions and quality of work.

“Speaking to both remote workers staying at home and key workers who travelled to workplaces through the pandemic, we found that increased surveillance is driving an intensification, and in many cases, ‘gigification’ of jobs. Action from government is essential to protect good work.”



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