TUC launches AI taskforce to safeguard workers’ rights

Tories’ “light-touch approach” to AI regulation at work risks Britain’s labour market becoming a “wild west.”

8 Sep 2023| News

On Sunday (3rd September), the TUC launched a new AI taskforce bringing together a wide range of experts to safeguard workers’ rights and ensure the largely unregulated technology benefits all.

Leading employment lawyers, academics, politicians and technologists will challenge the Tories’ “light-touch approach” to AI regulation at work which risks Britain’s labour market becoming a “wild west.”

The union federation said workers and employers have been “crying out for certainty” over how AI should be used in the workplace after the Tories omitted the necessary “guardrails” to protect workers’ rights in their AI White Paper in March.

TUC assistant general secretary Kate Bell said:

“AI is already making life-changing decisions about the way millions work — including how people are hired, performance-managed and fired. But UK employment law is way behind the curve — leaving many workers vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination.

We urgently need new employment legislation, so workers and employers know where they stand. Without proper regulation of AI, our labour market risks turning into a wild west. We all have a shared interest in getting this right.”

The TUC’s taskforce will aim to publish an expert-drafted AI and Employment Bill early in 2024 and lobby to have it incorporated into British law.

AI is already making “high-risk, life changing” decisions about workers’ lives — such as line-managing, hiring and firing staff — and being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles.

The TUC says left unchecked these could lead to greater discrimination, unfairness and exploitation at work across the economy.

The move comes after a survey of OECD countries found 27 per cent of jobs are at high risk from a growing AI revolution, which MPs have confirmed will disrupt jobs and presents “many risks to long-established and cherished rights.”

The Artificial Intelligence and Employment Bill Advisory Group includes representatives from Tech UK, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Oxford University, the British Computer Society, the CWU, GMB, Usdaw, Community and Prospect unions and the Ada Lovelace Institute.

It will also bring in politicians David Davis MP, Darren Jones MP, Mick Whitley MP and Chris Stephens MP and be jointly chaired by Kate Bell and Gina Neff.

Professor Neff, executive director of the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at Cambridge University, said “laws must be fit for purpose and ensure that AI works for all.

“AI safety isn’t just a challenge for the future and it isn’t just a technical problem. These are issues that both employers and workers are facing now, and they need the help from researchers, policy makers and civil society to build the capacity to get this right for society.”

Robin Allen KC and Dee Masters from the AI Law Consultancy, who will draft the Bill with assistance from Cloisters barristers’ chambers, said:

“Developing a new AI legal framework for workers and employers, in which the full benefits of AI technologies can be properly shared and enjoyed, is an urgent task.”

He said having input from the TUC’s range of experts “is a step change toward maximising the benefits of AI for all.”

Prospect last week welcomed a report by the science committee that urged the government to tackle 12 major challenges presented by the technology ahead of an international AI summit in Bletchley Park in November.

The union said the report made “clear that AI will disrupt how we are managed and work” and that Britain risks “missing out on the benefits of cutting-edge technology unless it provides clearer rules to help workers navigate change.”

The TUC is urging the government to invite workers’ groups and the wider voluntary sector to attend the summit, and is calling for a number of protections to be enshrined in law which will prevent Britain becoming an “international outlier” on the regulation of AI.

These include a legal duty on employers to consult trade unions on the use of “high risk” and intrusive forms of AI in the workplace and a mandatory human review of decisions made by AI systems so workers can challenge decisions that are unfair and discriminatory.

In July, the OECD said:

“Minimum wages and collective bargaining could help ease the pressure that AI could put on wages while governments and regulators need to ensure workers’ rights are not compromised.”

This article was first published in the Morning Star. We thank them for the permission to republish it here.