TUC warns of gaps in British law over use of AI at work

by Jeremy

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is warning that huge gaps exist in British law over the use of artificial intelligence (AI) at work, which will lead to discrimination and unfair treatment of working people.

A report produced for the TUC by employment rights lawyers Robin Allen QC and Dee Masters from the AI Law Consultancy says the rapid expansion of AI at work is outpacing existing employment law.

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“This is a fork in the road,” said the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady. “AI at work could be used to improve productivity and working lives. But it is already being used to make life-changing decisions about people at work – like who gets hired and fired. Without fair rules, the use of AI at work could lead to widespread discrimination and unfair treatment – especially for those in insecure work and the gig economy,” he added.

“Every worker must have the right to have AI decisions reviewed by a human manager. And workplace AI must be harnessed for good – not to set punishing targets and rob workers of their dignity,” said Grady.

The report’s authors, Allen and Masters, stated jointly: “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.

“Workplace AI must be harnessed for good – not to set punishing targets and rob workers of their dignity”

Frances O’Grady, TUC

“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.

“Already, important decisions are being made by machines. Accountability, transparency and accuracy need to be guaranteed by the legal system through the carefully crafted legal reforms we propose. There are clear red lines, which must not be crossed if work is not to become dehumanised.”

The 115-page report, Technology managing people – the legal implications, says unless urgent new legal protections are put in place, workers will become increasingly vulnerable and powerless to challenge inhuman forms of AI performance management.

The authors use a working definition of AI as “the science of making machines smart”, a phrase coined by law professor Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius. At its core is the idea that machines might be made to work in the same way as humans, only faster, better and more reliably.

The TUC is calling on technology companies, employers and government to support a new set of legal reforms for the ethical use of AI at work.

It wants these reforms to include a legal duty on employers to consult trade unions on the use of “high-risk” and intrusive forms of AI in the workplace, and 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.

It is also demanding amendments to the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and Equality Act to guard against discriminatory algorithms, as well as a legal right to “switch off” from work so people can create “communication-free” time in their lives.

In the report, the authors state: “It might be thought that these new technologies would be liberating for workers, and in some ways they can be. But … new technologies are encroaching significantly on workers’ private spheres over and above the proper limits of professional and working time. Increased digitisation, through AI and other forms of technology, is contributing to an ‘always-on’ culture in which employees are never completely free from work. There is a growing sense that employers are increasingly expecting their workforce to be easily contactable all times.”

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