NSW committee finds workplace surveillance outpacing laws
Catching up with unregulated monitoring.
OUTSIDE THE SCOPE
A NSW Parliamentary committee has warned that outdated laws are allowing “unchecked and unchallenged” use of surveillance and automation technologies by employers.
The newly-published report of the Select Committee on the Impact of Technological and Other Change on the Future of Work and Workers in NSW has made thirteen recommendations that call for an overhaul of workplace legislation that was originally published in 2005.
The committee has found the NSW Workplace Surveillance Act 2005 should be updated to reflect advancements in technology over the seventeen year period.
This includes the development of smartphones, high-speed wireless networking, connected security cameras, AI-driven employee monitoring and other technologies.
They also found the laws should be amended to require external approval before employers implement surveillance measures, including clear privacy protections for workers.
Such measures would include the improvement of notification requirements, allowing employees an opportunity “negotiate and oppose proposed surveillance activities”.
Such changes should also give workers the right to refuse “excessive or unreasonable workloads or intrusions into personal or family time,” as well as allowing them to “disconnect from work devices” (including the obligation to respond to work communications outside of work hours).
The inquiry also advises the NSW government to develop a formal strategy for managing technological advancement in state public sector agencies.
Committee Chair, Daniel Mookhey, warns in the final report:
“Technological advancement is rapidly expanding workplace surveillance and the automation of work,” said employers, motivated by bottom lines, are unchecked and unchallenged in their use of these tools, reaping the benefits that flow.
Laws have not kept track with the many, many ways that technology enables workers to be monitored, often without them being aware of it.”
The report warns that employees, stressed by constant monitoring, lack adequate protections, are side-lined in the process, and do not share in any of the benefits of said technology.
We can thank the coronavirus ‘pandemic’ for a rapid increase in workplace surveillance tools.
The adoption of process automation technology is increasing at breakneck pace.
Many companies that shifted to work-from-home models during the ‘crisis’ quickly began using surveillance software to monitor employee activities.
It was not hard to predict that the same companies would continue these practices beyond the scope of restrictions, be it to ‘save on costs’ or as ‘flexibility options’ for employees.
As a result, employees risk becoming collateral damage in the push to automate the enterprise.
Increasingly intrusive surveillance and efficiency monitoring technologies are raising concerns amongst workers’ rights advocates, even as many companies try to impose workplace surveillance technologies to keep tabs on work-from-home employees.
A recent ExpressVPN survey of workforce surveillance practices found: that
- 78 per cent of employers admitted using employee monitoring software to track employee performance or activity.
- 73 per cent of those said that recorded calls, emails, or messages “have informed an employee’s performance reviews”.
- 46 per cent of those said they had terminated an employee based on data collected during surveillance.
ACLU senior policy analyst, Jay Stanley, recently warned of “nightmarish” surveillance technologies in workplaces, pointing to surveillance-heavy China as a worst-case scenario.
China is a place where “there is no space between what can be done, and what is done.”
Local thinktank, the Australia Institute, has been equally concerned, launching its Centre for Responsible Technology (CRT) in 2019 with a key focus on what CRT director Peter Lewis recently described to the Select Committee as “the unregulated intensification of surveillance in the workplace”.
And it’s not just workplaces doing this either. In May, we detailed how at least 24 universities in Australia and New Zealand have used some sort of ‘online proctoring tool’ last year…….
Although workplaces (and the greater world) are vastly different today to what they once were, we cannot leave the fate of our workplaces and indeed the labour market in the hands of tech companies.
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