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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Next Frontier for the Labor Movement: Data Privacy & AI

A recent report by Sarah O’Connor in The Financial Times (“Algorithms at work signal a shift to management by numbers”) provided a well-balanced and thoughtful overview of the benefits and risks associated with the use of artificial intelligence in the workplace.  Of particular interest is her highlighting of two new sets of principles a major international union has issued focusing upon data privacy and AI in the workplace.  On December 17, 2017, the UNI Global Union issued ten principles in each domain that it contends should be incorporated into collective bargaining agreements and international labor standards.  The Swiss-based UNI Global Union represents 20 million skills and services workers in over 900 trade unions located in 150 countries.  According to UNI’s General Secretary:  “Data collection and artificial intelligence are the next frontier for the labour movement. Just as unions established wage, hour, and safety standards during the Industrial Revolution, it is urgent that we set new benchmarks for the Digital Revolution.”

The data privacy principles, drawn from the GDPR, Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec (2015) and the Article 29 Working Party Opinion 2/2017, address familiar data protection concepts, such as data subject access, data security, minimization, transparency, accountability, and notification.  The ethical AI principles, drawn from half a dozen sources, include transparency; equipping AI systems with an “ethical black box;” making AI serve people and planet; adopting a human-in-command approach; ensuring genderless, unbiased AI; establishing global governance mechanisms and banning the attribution of responsibility to robots.

While the rights and interests of workers on matters relating to data protection and automation have a well-established and familiar platform within Europe, namely through workers councils, the same cannot be said elsewhere.  If unions and other employee organizations outside of Europe have been active around these issues, they have kept it a closely-guarded secret, one that the UNI Global Union and its Future of Work project hopes to put an end to.  

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