UK unions publish AI bill to protect workers from 'risks and harms' of tech

TUC questions government's approach so far

A UK federation of trades unions has published a bill designed to protect workers from “the risks and harms” of AI-powered decision-making in the workplace.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has put forward the bill to encourage the government to take a firmer stance on regulating AI. The ruling Conservative party has so far advocated a light-touch approach to regulating AI, relying instead on existing law and bolstering the role of regulators.

“The Bill also provides for trade union rights in relation to the use of artificial intelligence systems by employers, addresses the risks associated with the value chain in the deployment of artificial intelligence systems in the field of employment, and enables the development of safe, secure and fair artificial intelligence systems in the employment field,” the TUC said.

In an accompanying paper, Mary Towers, TUC policy officer said: “AI is rapidly transforming our society and the world of work, yet there are no AI-related laws in place in the UK, nor any current plans to legislate soon.

“Urgent action is needed to ensure that people are protected from the risks and harms of AI-powered decision making in the workplace, and that everyone benefits from the opportunities associated with AI at work. Employers and businesses also need the certainty offered by regulation,” she added.

In March last year, the UK government published a white paper outlining an approach to AI regulation based on harms rather than risks.

Science, innovation, and technology minister Michelle Donelan said: "A heavy-handed and rigid approach can stifle innovation and slow AI adoption. That is why we set out a proportionate and pro-innovation regulatory framework. Rather than target specific technologies, it focuses on the context in which AI is deployed. This enables us to take a balanced approach to weighing up the benefits versus the potential risks."

The EU has since introduced its AI Act into law the world's first legislation designed specifically to address the risk of artificial intelligence, including biometric categorization and manipulation of human behavior, as well as stricter rules for the introduction of generative AI.

In November last year, the UK hosted an AI Safety Summit in which a number of world leaders signed up to the Bletchley Declaration, designed "to kickstart urgent talks on the risks and opportunities posed by rapid advances in frontier AI – especially ahead of new models launching next year, whose capabilities may not be fully understood."

However, the TUC had already co-ordinated an open letter to label the summit “a missed opportunity”.

The “communities and workers most affected by AI have been marginalised by the Summit” while a select few corporations seek to shape the rules, the letter coordinated by the TUC, Connected by Data and Open Rights Group said.

In September, the TUC launched a new AI taskforce to call for “urgent” new legislation to safeguard workers’ rights and to ensure AI benefits all. The proposed AI Bill is one piece of work from that group. ®

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