Ahead of an inquiry session today on algorithmic management for the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Work, which I Co-Chair, here’s an opinion piece in the Times.
We must move past this surveillance state model of technology and towards one that supports human flourishing and wellbeing.


Technological developments are having a profound impact on the working lives of people across the UK. The pandemic has led to dramatic changes in the way workers use technology and not just for those of us who were able to work from home during this time. Key workers, particularly those in retail, logistics and manufacturing have seen a drastic uptick in the use of ‘algorithmic management’ technologies.

New analysis from the Institute for the Future of Work (IFOW) has shown that algorithmic systems are being adopted throughout the economy, far beyond the limits of the ‘gig economy’ and eroding good work. ‘Work’ is being narrowly redefined in terms of aspects of work that can be quantified and measured by an algorithm. As a result, survey data from trade union USDAW found 44% of members thought increased use of technology would make management practices worse over the coming five years.

The IFOW’s research found that a major supermarket is using heat sensors to detect bodies at the tills, informing ‘queue length reports’ which may lead to the disciplining of staff if more than one person is in a queue. Through COVID this trend has accelerated with new sensors introduced to manage customer levels throughout stores. Other similarly intrusive technology is being rolled out across different sectors, managing the workloads, shifts and directing workers.

There are concerning equality implications related to the adoption of these technologies. There is evidence that disabled workers in particular lose out as a result of the way algorithmic systems quantify their work. Shift allocating applications have also created significant issues for workers with caring responsibilities. Workers revealed they often get assigned shifts through these applications a late notice and have no input in choosing their hours.

As technological developments in the workplace kick into overdrive, we need to make sure that our laws change and are adapted to meet the needs of the changing environment. Technological development is inevitable, but it is essential that we have a legal system that ensures technology develops in a way that doesn’t undermine workers’ rights and civil liberties. We need to ensure that businesses and employers are accountable for the algorithmic systems they are using and that workers have access to legal justice in order to seek redress when mistreated.

This is why we are launching today launching an inquiry into ‘AI and Surveillance in the Workplace’ with the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Work. Our inquiry will examine what is currently taking place in workplaces across the UK, how the law as it stands applies and what changes are necessary to ensure that the rights and dignity of workers are not undermined. We will hear from a range of experts and a public call for evidence with the view of reporting back to the Government on the best path forward in establishing algorithmic accountability.

One retail worker who was interviewed for the IFOW report said “‘You’re constantly looked at and watched. You think, have I done something wrong? You’re scared to have a conversation and a giggle with your colleagues in case you get reprimanded. It’s horrible. Your privacy is gone.” It is crucial that we move past this surveillance state model of technology and towards that supports human flourishing and wellbeing.

Read the new report by the Institute for the Future of Work: https://www.ifow.org/…/the-amazonian-era-how…
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