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Proposals 15-19: Technology

We believe in worker control of technology

Technology plays an important role our workplaces and societies. Technology cannot be divorced from the issue of power because whoever has power decides what kind of technology is developed and what it is used for, and therefore, what its impacts will be. Technological changes always has social costs as well as benefits. People generally and workers specifically should therefore control technological development that affects them. When they do not, technology benefits a minority. The balance of power between workers and employers will determine in whose interested these issues are resolved. The owners of data are also powerful because a key part of today’s technological change is the ability to produce and analyse data.

For workers, the main impact of new technology is coming through increased digitalisation. This creates data which can be used to measure, but also to monitor and control. The owners and controllers of data are therefore increasingly powerful. Other forms of technology based on digitalisation are allowing workers to be replaced or moved, and for labour processes to be restructured. Digitalisation is not just a workplace issue. Society is voluntarily creating ever more data through privately-owned platforms. Many cities are considering ‘smart city’ models based on data. Transport workers will increasingly find that data will be used to condition their lives.

At best, technology has the potential to improve work in transport. It could allow for more worker control over conditions and hours, and eliminated dangerous roles. Some technologies also have the potential to make work more creative and fulfilling. Data could also be used to plan and model transport so as to minimise its environmental impact. Democratic control of technology is key to this. At worst technology will vastly empower management and the owners of data to the detriment of society.

As unions we can embrace technology and innovation that modernises and improves public transport: we want to breathe cleaner air and we want reliable, safe services for ourselves and our families. And as unions we want to resist efforts to degrade and cheapen work under the guise of ‘innovation’. If workers and trade unions are strong and influential, they can benefit from technological change; but if they are weak, private employers will benefit the most.

Policy proposal 15: Facilitate job mobility and provide training for workers

Where new technology is implemented, it must be managed so that existing workforces are given stronger rights to training and retraining in the skills that will allow them to take advantage of or progress into new jobs. There should be support for existing workers to fill new positions with strong redeployment and job mobility rights and better support for older workers who are seeking to retire with bridging benefits and other incentives.

Policy proposal 16: Regulate and make digital platforms part of public transport systems

The expansion of digital platforms, like Uber, or Mobility as a Service, is creating the potential for transport to be reorganised as an ‘on-demand’ service provided by private companies or volunteers. These providers are using an employment model that misclassifies workers as ‘self-employed’. Technology is being used in ways that enhance private profit, while undermining the incomes and stability of the workers producing the service. Digital platforms drivers are workers, not self-employed and they have employment rights. In regulated digital platforms, workers have the right to a collective agreement, minimum hours, accident insurance, sick pay and other benefits.

The increase in unregulated ‘on demand’ services diverts passengers from the public transport system in many cities, resulting in increased emissions, congestion and pollution. ‘Demand responsive’ new mobility services must be regulated so that they can be integrated into public transport systems. The communications technologies that provided the foundation for these services were almost invariably created as the result of public projects, and this is another strong argument for treating these services as public.  Unions must negotiate how digital platforms integrate into public transport systems.

Policy proposal 17: Consult and negotiate over the process of technological change

Workers should have a genuine say in how technological changes are implemented and managed, including through provision of information, consultation and negotiation. Unions must have the right to demand an independent impact assessment of new technology on men and women, formal and informal workers, including what measures can be taken to address job losses. Unions can negotiate compensation and measures to avoid negative impacts of technology on workers.

Policy proposal 18: Regulate the use of employee monitoring technology and workplace AI (artificial intelligence)

One of the biggest impacts of today’s technology is the increasing monitoring and surveillance of workers. Cameras, microphones, sensors in machinery, tools and equipment, biometric data, and GPS tracking together allow management unprecedented information over the work process, and can allow employers to strictly control every aspect of it. At the moment this data is being used to intensify work, and create unreasonable workloads with a serious impact on working conditions and quality of life. The development of AI in the workplace threatens to further undermine working conditions and stability of employment by being used to predict illness or other issues, or to benchmark workers against each other.

The development and deployment of these technologies needs to be regulated. Standards and norms for performance in various activities need to be agreed by workers, unions and employers. The parameters that AI uses to inform its decision-making should be transparent, and take into account workers’ rights. Workers should have the right to influence the use of monitoring technology and the development of AI to identify where violations of rights are occurring. Workers are able to exercise this type of control if they are represented in the decision-making bodies of public transport operators.

Policy proposal 19: Use and share data for the common good

The vast amount of data that is now available should be used to improve the transport system and not to make a private profit. At the moment, it is unclear what data is being collected, what it is used for and where it is stored. Data governance should protect individual and collective rights, controlling how data is collected, used, stored and anonymised. Data storage and analysis should be part of ‘the commons’ and managed by communities and serve the public good. Workers and passengers should be informed about what data is collected and should have access to the data.