Labour Party urges UK data watchdog to update its Code of Employment Practices to tackle workplace snooping

Key doc hasn't been updated since 2018, warn politicos and trade union


The UK's Information Commissioner's Office needs to update its Code of Employment Practices to tackle workplace spying by bosses, the Prospect trade union and the Labour Party have said.

The call for more regulation of workplace surveillance comes after recent reports of new gadgets designed to tell bosses whether their toiling underlings are happy or sad.

It also echoes previous calls by Prospect for stronger regulation of workplace surveillance tech.

Chi Onwurah MP, Labour's shadow digital minister, said today: "Ministers must urgently provide better regulatory oversight of online surveillance software to ensure people have the right to privacy whether in their workplace or home – which are increasingly one and the same."

Labour also wants the Information Commissioner's Office to update its employment practices code (PDF, 96 pages) – a document that hasn't been updated since the GDPR/Data Protection Act 2018 became law. Among other things, the code advises UK companies on their legal duties when it comes to "monitoring at work". It states that companies should "tell workers what information sources are to be used to carry out checks on them and why the checks are to be carried out."

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Andrew Pakes, Prospect's research director, said in a statement: "Digital surveillance is just the tip of the iceberg for a new world of creepy tech that some employers are using to check up on their workforce. This technology is being introduced with no consultation with workers and often without even following the limited current rules around data privacy."

Prospect, which boasts around 140,000 members, used to be known as the professionals' union, drawing its members from mostly white-collar jobs.

Data protection nerds might well be interested in how Britain's workplace data laws, based entirely on EU data protection directives and latterly the General Data Protection Regulation itself, have evolved over time. The now-repealed Data Protection Act 1998's section 12 gave workers a legal power to ensure they couldn't be fired because of "processing by automatic means of personal data… such as, for example, his performance at work… his reliability or conduct." If you were sacked or disciplined by a computer telling humans what to do, you could kick up a legal stink.

Fast forward to the DPA 2018, which is based on the EU GDPR, and that right has been watered down to say that if some black box software system sacks you, you've got a month to ask your boss to "take a new decision that is not based solely on automated processing".

Labour's Onwurah concluded: "The bottom line is that workers should not be digitally monitored without their informed consent, and there should be clear rules, rights and expectations for both businesses and workers." ®


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