‘Dystopian’ surveillance ‘disproportionately targets young, female and minority workers’ | Workers’ rights
“Dystopian” worker surveillance techniques are more likely likely to disproportionately affect young people, women and ethnic minorities, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank warns.
Worker surveillance practices have increasingly become the new normal, with a rise in remote work leading to an escalation in workplace monitoring, according to the report. But it says regulation has not kept up with the reality.
According to the IPPR, in the private sector women are at higher risk of worker surveillance, with non-unionised women 52% more likely to face surveillance. Black workers are also 52% more likely to face surveillance.
It says young people aged 16-29 in low-skilled jobs are 49% more likely to be surveilled at work.
Henry Parkes, senior economist at IPPR and the report’s author, said: “Young people, women and black workers are likely to be disproportionately affected negatively by worker surveillance and as it stands, the law is not keeping up with reality. This could have disastrous consequences for the mental and physical wellbeing of the workforce. The government must urgently review what is acceptable.”
IPPR recommends says the UK government should consider outlawing practices such as keystroke monitoring and employers should share data collected with employees.
Other organisations, including the TUC, are calling for measures such as an employment bill that would include the right to disconnect alongside digital rights to improve transparency around use of surveillance tech.
Some research has estimated that the number of employers using employee monitoring tools has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, and is expected to rise to 70% within the next three years.
As technology has advanced, so have monitoring techniques. While in the recent past employers relied on timesheets and bag checks, now-common monitoring programs record keystrokes or track computer activity through taking regular screenshots. Other techniques involve recording calls or meetings and even accessing employees’ webcams.
This means that workplace monitoring can move from fairly basic surveillance to more complex techniques. Many employees are unhappy about this and a 2022 Morning Consult survey of 750 tech workers showed that half would rather quit than have their employer monitor them as they worked.
Michelle, from south-east London, works as an accountant and a financial controller. She says that “working surveillance has become more increasingly common across every single workplace” she has worked in.
She said: “I think it’s detrimental to your mental health, you worry that big brother is always watching. I take in a bottle of water, and whether I have time to even stop to drink the water is another issue.
“A certain amount of surveillance helps women feel more secure. For example, if there is CCTV and you, as a woman, are the only person on your floor or even five floors – it can lure you into a false sense of security. But it’s a false sense of security the footage won’t be watched until later, so anyone who sees anything that may have happened is after the fact.”
In 2022, the TUC warned that “intrusive worker surveillance tech” and AI risked “spiralling out of control” without stronger regulation to protect workers.