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New report documents threats to workers posed by AI

31 Jan 2024 6 minute read
The report details examples of people being made redundant as a result of decisions made by AI.

Martin Shipton

A new report from the Wales TUC has documented for the first time how workers in Wales are being negatively affected by the unregulated introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) into workplaces.

The report details examples of people being made redundant as a result of decisions made by AI; people being “managed out” of their jobs for not meeting targets set by AI; and creative workers’ images, voice, creations at risk of being ‘stolen’ by AI.

It tells how AI is being used in different industries to the detriment of workers. It states: “An official for Equity, the performing arts and entertainment union, explained a case where a member was approached by a fan to say, ‘we loved you reading this particular novel’. But the member had never done the audio book.

“The fan had just gone to a website where they’d asked for ‘this book, by this actor’ and it provided them with a full transcription, because they had the voice of the actor present. The actor knew nothing about the book. It had been generated using AI after fingerprinting their voice.

“An NUJ officer raised concerns with workload and professional skills, citing a job advert requiring a journalist to produce 50 articles a day by augmenting copy produced by generative AI tools. A photographer pointed to the ability of AI to create photographic images using variations or syntheses of a human work, stating that ‘scraping content from the web is in many ways just a form of stealing.’

“Educators were concerned about the challenges generative AI is causing. A new problem they face is how to mark students’ course work now that it could have been produced by generative AI. Lecturers pointed to conflicting advice from managers and exam regulators on this topic. Furthermore, there were questions about the long-term impact on the quality of education if more AI tools were to be introduced.”

Glaring

The report says that as a result of these high profile and glaring issues, there is a heightened urgency for the need to develop responses.

For example, the Equity officer cited the union’s campaign to update copyright laws to protect creators and learnings from the industrial action taken by writers and actors in Hollywood over the use of AI.

Union reps in other sectors reported how AI was intensifying an age-old concern for workers: surveillance and intrusions on autonomy and privacy.

A civil servant said that software-based workplace surveillance appeared to be “driven by a lack of trust in staff and pressures on budgets which require everyone to work even harder”. They reported it had a counterproductive effect on employee morale.

A union rep at a large delivery company said: “My colleagues have experienced the overbearing use of technology to push for better performance. Workers are now issued with electronic devices with GPS trackers. If we stop for one minute a yellow dot comes up on a map – and it is reported to a manager.”

The rep reported how electronic surveillance was having a dehumanising effect on workers, with unfair disciplinary measures being taken due to data-based systems failing to understand contextual issues: “There may be very good reasons for a one-minute stop.

“For example, you could be talking to a customer. The new system can lead to people being hauled in for a conversation and told ‘you stopped for 15 minutes over the course of a week; effectively you weren’t working then.’ They are asked to justify themselves.”

According to workers at a large manufacturing site, this dehumanising effect is also present in HR practices: “The risk is that we are losing the human elements in HR through automation and remoteness. There is no benefit of the doubt, no grey area. I know we are told that computers can’t get it wrong, but they can get it wrong. They are just doing what they are told. There’s no human element in there.”

Intrusive

In 2022, the TUC warned that intrusive worker surveillance tech driven by AI risked “spiralling out of control” without stronger regulation to protect workers.

Polling conducted by Britain Thinks, revealed 60% of workers believed they have been subject to some form of surveillance and monitoring at their current or most recent job.

The findings of the research for the report also include positive examples of AI’s impact – such as lecturers in further education institutions working alongside management to introduce AI in their work.

The Wales TUC, which represents 48 unions and 400,000 workers in Wales, has flagged workers’ concerns on AI including increased surveillance, intensification of work, heightened discrimination, and job losses.

Unions are demanding a greater voice in the roll out of AI to ensure that workers are protected from its harms and benefit from its value.

Wales TUC General Secretary Shavanah Taj said: “AI is not one technology. It affects every workplace differently. Our findings are deeply troubling and demonstrate that conversations about AI and work are not academic parlour games – the impacts are real, often negative and are happening now.

“We will fight to ensure that our workers have voice and control over any changes to their workplaces and working conditions”

Report co-author Adam Cantwell-Corn, Head of Campaigns and Policy at Connected by Data, said: “AI at work is not a ‘future’ issue, it’s a ‘now’ issue. Workers and trade unions in Wales are already seeking to protect rights and wellbeing at work. This research shows that there is a need to build on this progress and be empowered to make sure that technology benefits us all.”

The report calls on the Welsh Government to use its role as an employer in the devolved public sector to set an example, to further develop guidance on the issue, and to promote and monitor best practice on worker participation.

Human review

At a UK level, the TUC has previously called for protections to be enshrined in law including:

  • A legal duty on employers to consult trade unions on the use of “high risk” and intrusive forms of AI in the workplace.
  • A legal right for all workers to have a human review of decisions made by AI systems so they can challenge decisions that are unfair and discriminatory.
  • Amendments to the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and Equality Act to guard against discriminatory algorithms.
    It has also launched an AI Taskforce bringing together leading specialists in law, technology, politics, HR and the voluntary sector. The taskforce aims to publish an expert-drafted AI and Employment Bill early in 2024.

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Linda Jones
Linda Jones
4 months ago

Given the travesty of justice caused by the PO/Fujitsu software system inflicted on subpostmasters I believe we should all be very wary of the march of AI. Algorithms will be ruling every aspect of our lives before long from the NHS to the Legal/Justice system to the DWP etc. We will all be guilty unless we can prove (against all the odds) that its a software malfunction. Very scary

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago

AL is a threat and a taunt…

Andrea Loathsome…’Brexit checks’ “the price you pay for being a sovereign nation again”

Fear the humans among us first…

Covid +Fat Shanks and his gang…

Austerity + Cameron, Osborn and Hunt…

The next year Rishi and Hunt, The wrecking crew…

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