Work surveillance tech “dystopia” prompts calls for government action

By Lucy Ingham

The growing use of work surveillance technology by employers has prompted the trade union Prospect to call for the government to act on the issue after it found deep concerns by its members.

In a poll by the union concerning work surveillance technologies that are already in use in the UK – and which are set to see a rise as remote working continues – the majority of respondence expressed significant discomfort.

Camera monitoring, which is being used by some companies to ensure their employees are remaining at their desks during working hours, was the most disliked technology, with 80% saying they would be uncomfortable with its use, and 64% saying they would be very uncomfortable.

The use of wearables to track employees was also disliked by the majority with 76% saying they would be uncomfortable with the technology and 61% very uncomfortable.

Keystroke monitoring drew less concern, but was still met with a negative reaction from most, with 66% finding the idea uncomfortable and 44% very uncomfortable.

Notably, many of these technologies were unknown to the majority of respondents. Only 32% had heard of camera tracking and keystroke monitoring technologies, while the use of wearables to track movements was only known about by 26%.

The impact on employee relationships with their managers was also raised with 48% saying it would cause harm, rising to 62% in those aged 18 to 24.

Government urged to take action of work surveillance technology

Prospect is calling for the UK government to “get on top of” the use of work surveillance technologies by employers, with formal regulation of its use that enshrines the right of employees to disconnect from their work even if working from home.

“Having your every keystroke or app usage monitored by your boss while you are working in your own home may sound like a dystopia – but there are precious few controls in place to prevent it becoming a daily reality for millions of workers across Britain,” warned Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect.

“Employers are beginning to think about how their workplace will operate in the future, including a far greater prevalence of blended working and exclusive working from home. As the new reality takes hold we will see more and more debates about the use of technology to monitor workers – the evidence suggests the workforce are simply not ready for it.”

The issue is becoming particularly significant in light of recent comments from the government, which advised that businesses should expect remote working to continue for the next six months. It is feared that work surveillance methods will see a dramatic upswing in use by businesses over this period, as companies look to technology monitor their workforce.

“The changes have been thrown into sharp relief by the new government advice advocating a further six months of remote working,” said Clancy.

“If government is going to tell workers to stay home, then it needs to get serious about this issue, by bringing businesses, unions, and tech companies together to discuss what modern workers’ rights should look like in this new world of work.”

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