TUC calls for legal reforms around use of AI in the workplace

A new report from the TUC calls for urgent legal reforms to ensure that the rapidly expanding use of AI in the workplace does not lead to further discrimination and unfairness against workers.

woman coding at laptop


The TUC and legal experts are warning that “huge gaps” in British law over the use of AI at work could lead to “widespread” discrimination and unfair treatment at work and in the recruitment process.

A report for the TUC says that employment law is failing to keep pace with the rapid expansion of AI at work and that unless urgent new legal protections are put in place, workers will become increasingly vulnerable and powerless to challenge “inhuman” forms of AI performance management, with gig workers and those in insecure work being the most at risk.

The TUC has also issued a joint call to tech companies, employers and government to support a new set legal reforms for the ethical use of AI at work.

The TUC says these legal reforms should include a legal duty on employers to consult trade unions on the use of “high risk” and intrusive forms of AI in the workplace; a legal right for all workers to have a human review of decisions made by AI systems so they can challenge decisions that are unfair and discriminatory; amendments to the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and Equality Act to guard against discriminatory algorithms; and a legal right to ‘switch off’ from work so workers can create “communication free” time in their lives.

The report highlights how the use of AI has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, for instance, when it comes to selecting candidates for interview, day-to-day line management, performance ratings, shift allocation and deciding who is disciplined or made redundant. And it says AI is being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles.

The report warns of a huge lack of transparency over the use of AI at work, with many staff left in the dark over how AI is being used to make decisions that directly affect them. It wants to see employers informing workers how AI is being used in the workplace to make decisions about them.

Alongside the report the TUC is also publishing a short manifesto for the fair and transparent use of AI at work which it is asking political parties, employers and tech companies to sign up to.

Leading AI and employment rights lawyers Robin Allen QC and Dee Masters said: “The TUC is right to call for urgent legislative changes to ensure that workers and companies can both enjoy the benefits of AI.

“Used properly, AI can change the world of work for good. Used in the wrong way it can be exceptionally dangerous. There are currently huge gaps in British law when it comes to regulating AI at work. They must be plugged quickly to stop workers from being discriminated against and mistreated.

“There are clear red lines, which must not be crossed if work is not to become dehumanised.”


Meanwhile, Aviva Investors, one of the UK’s biggest investors which manages £365bn of assets, has said that it will not invest in Deliveroo because of concerns over workers’ rights. The delivery company expects to be valued at up to £8.8bn when it lists its shares in April. Aviva said it would not invest as Deliveroo riders did not get the minimum wage, sick leave and holiday pay. Deliveroo said its self-employed riders had “freedom” to choose their hours. The move comes after a Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers are not self employed contractors and should have workers’ rights.

Aviva Investors is one of a number, including Legal and General Investment Management, M&G and Aberdeen Standard who have said they will not be participating in Deliveroo’s IPO following a study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showing many Deliveroo drivers are paid below the minimum wage. Deliveroo says data gathering techniques used in the study are flawed and noted: “There has been a strong investor interest in our planned IPO and we are already backed by some of the most respected global tech investors.” Investors have also raised concerns over the proposed dual-class share structure and the company’s reliance on gig economy workers, which Rupert Krefting, head of corporate finance and stewardship at M&G, said presented “risks to the sustainability of its business model for long-term investors.” Meanwhile, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain is organising action against the company by riders to coincide with the planned share sale next month.

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