Labour warns on remote work monitoring

Labour calls for urgent action on remote work surveillance.

Laptop with code on the screen and a phone on a desk


Labour has called on the Government to urgently update guidance on employment practices relating to remote working in the light of recent surveys that show an increase in remote surveillance by businesses.

According to a recent YouGov survey, one in five firms has introduced online software to track employees working remotely and monitor their productivity, or is planning to do so. Research by the TUC has also found that one in seven workers say that monitoring and surveillance at work has increased during the pandemic.

As well as monitoring emails, messages and meeting attendance, online software can even log how long it takes people to reply and record camera shots. The data can be used to assess performance and analysis by the TUC has found that artificial intelligence increasingly has a role in redundancy decisions, leading to an increased risk of discrimination against disabled workers or those caring for children.

Labour is calling for the Code of Employment Practices from the Informational Commissioner’s Office to be updated urgently in light of rapid changes to how people work. In addition, Labour is calling for any use of personal data through surveillance to be subject to a Data Protection Impact Assessment, as well as consultation with employees and trade unions, before it is introduced.

Chi Onwurah, Labour’s Shadow Digital Minister, said: “Guidance and regulation to protect workers are woefully outdated in light of the accelerated move to remote working and rapid advancements in technology.

“The bottom line is that workers should not be digitally monitored without their informed consent, and there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers.

“Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home – which are increasingly one and the same.”

The call came as Scotland announced that schools and childcare would continue to be closed until at least mid-February and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed the UK government is to review EU labour laws post-Brexit, but insisted there would be no dilution of workers’ rights. He told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that his department is carrying out a consultation with business leaders on EU employment regulations. The working time directive, which sets a maximum 48-hour week, is among rules being evaluated.

Meanwhile, TUC analysis shows Black and minority ethnic (BME) workers in the UK have been far harder hit by the pandemic than their white peers. The employment rate for people from BAME backgrounds fell 5.3% in the year to September 2020, compared with a 0.2% decrease in the number of employed white workers.

The TUC has urged the government to act quickly to tackle structural racism in the workplace. “This pandemic has held up a mirror to discrimination in our labour market,” said Frances O’Grady, secretary-general at the TUC. “The time for excuses and delays is over. Ministers must challenge the systemic racism and inequality that holds back BME people at work,” she added. “During previous economic downturns, BME workers have been ‘first out and last in’.

And Professor Dame Carol Black, who advises the government on the relationship between work and health, told the Work and Pensions Select Committee on Wednesday that line managers play a central role in enabling disabled people to enter and stay in the workforce and called for health and wellbeing to be a board reporting issue.

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