How can tech innovation promote workers’ rights?

A recent webinar discussed the latest innovations aimed at helping workers have a greater voice in how they are treated.

woman using IT skills


How can technology improve workers’ lives and rights rather than controlling them more, increasing job insecurity and making them feel less valued – especially in sectors like hospitality with low union membership levels?

A Resolution Foundation webinar last week heard from Louise Marston, Director of Ventures at the think tank, about tech initiatives that can complement the work of unions on workers’ rights in areas such as increasing convenience [for instance, signing up for basic activism, such as online petitions], providing information [for example, gathering data from workers about issues such as hourly pay or good practice which can be shown to jobseekers] and connection [creating community groups who can support each other and share experiences, for instance, curo, a community for unpaid carers].

The Resolution Foundation has set up a three-year project, Workertech, in collaboration with partners including accenture and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, to help people with issues such as finding training, addressing working conditions, promotion, pay and so forth.

Marston also listed some of the organisations which are aiming to amplify workers’ voices and power and enable them to organise better, such as the Worker Feedback Club [in the construction sector], TaskHer, the platform for tradeswomen, the training platform UpskillMe and Workerbird for low-paid workers which enables people to track their working day and pay and understand this data easily, recommending action to be taken if workers are not paid the legal minimum.

Marston said: “There is a lot of early stage and emerging innovation and many opportunities to work together, but we need to see more ideas that focus on giving more power to workers.”

Scaling up

Gavin Kelly, Chair of the Resolution Foundation, said that the challenge was how to scale up small, innovative platforms. Andrew Pakes, Director of Communications and Research at Prospect, said trade unions need to invest more in design thinking so that the ideas that are incubating can reach more people. “We can be gateways to a bigger audience,” he said, citing a Danish union which is investing significantly in this area.

Pakes said it is important for unions to get on top of this as employers are increasingly using global products. It is important that workers are involved in the designing of these products and that they are in greater control of how their data is being used.

He added that the move to more remote or hybrid working also created challenges for unions to create a social contract and solidarity between workers. It is important, he said, to focus on what unions are trying to achieve rather than on technology, which is just the means of delivery. However, technology could, for instance, help freelancers in the media industry to record their working hours and ensure their pay reflects the hours they do and that they don’t burn out.

David Arnold, Acting Head of Policy at UNISON, spoke about how technology could be used in sectors such as social care, which are fragmented and where working practices are often very bad. He said unions need to listen to their members about what will work for them. And he said unions need to reach out to all sectors of the economy – not just the public sector and manufacturing where they are still strong – to “get over ourselves” and to work with organisations such as the Resolution Foundation to deliver for tomorrow’s workforce.

Marston said the work that organisations like the Resolution Foundation do should be complementary and could help to make the connection between on and offline worlds. The challenge is to move from helping individuals to broader-based action.

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