The UK Government’s All Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Work has published a report examining the use, implications, and potential regulation of surveillance and other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in the workplace. Outlined below is a summary of the report’s key findings and recommendations.

Key findings

  • The evidence gathered as part of the inquiry points to a significant negative impact on the conditions and quality of work as a result of the use of AI. In particular, the use of monitoring technology and target setting technologies (prompted no doubt by the increase in working from home) is associated by workers as having a negative effect on physical and mental health as a result of the “extreme pressure of constant, real-time micro-management and automated assessment”.
  • A key point of concern is the “sense of unfairness and lack of agency around automated decisions that determine access or fundamental aspects of work”. In particular, workers reported not understanding how their personal information is being used to make decisions about the work that they do and there is a sense of a lack of available routes to challenge this. Fundamentally, there appears to be a marked lack of trust in AI technologies.
  • Workers reported feel constantly “on call” and that they are unable to control their working patterns in situations where algorithmic systems are used in allocating shifts.
  • The report further notes that “our laws have been far outpaced by magnitude and pervasive use of AI at work” and that the key challenges lie in data protection, employment and equality laws.

Recommendations

  1. The central proposal is to create an Accountability for Algorithms Act (“the AAA”), which would create a duty on both the private and public sector to undertake pre-emptive “Algorithmic Impact Assessments” (“AIA”) at the earliest inception of the design and deployment of algorithmic systems in the workplace, including a dedicated equality impact assessment. The purpose of such a duty would be to create a more active, pre-emptive model of assessing the impact of such technologies on work and workers and remedying any adverse impacts as early as possible during the lifecycle of such technologies.
  2. Under the heading “Updating digital protection”:
    1. An “easy-to-access” right for workers to obtain a full explanation of the purpose, outcomes and significant impacts of algorithmic systems in the workplace, which would include access for workers to relevant AIAs and a means of redress. Such a right is designed to improve clarity and fairness and in turn to address the current lack of trust in the ability of AI to make fair and transparent decisions.
    2. A fuller right to flexible working, including all roles being advertised as flexible and a presumption that reasonable requests for flexible working would be granted.
    3. New rights to disconnect outside working hours and for reasonable notice to be given for shift work and cancellation of shift work.
  3. Under the heading “Enabling a partnership approach”:
    1. The establishment of new collective rights for trade unions and NGOs to exercise the proposed new individual rights.
    2. A free-standing right for unions to be consulted wherever “high risk” AI tools are going to be introduced in the workplace.
    3. Introducing a new role for the TUC in developing and delivering AI training to workers.
    4. Union representation on relevant governance bodies.
  4. Expanding the UK Government’s Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (“DRCF”) with new powers to create certification schemes, suspending use or imposing terms, and issuing statutory guidance. The DRCF currently consists of the ICO, Competition and Markets Authority and Ofcom – it is also proposed in the report that membership should be expanded to include the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the new single enforcement body for employment rights. The report does however suggest that the Government may in the future need to consider introducing a specialist AI regulator.
  5. Recognising the principles of Good Work (as set out in the Good Work Charter) as fundamental values. Further details of the Good Work Charter can be found here: The Institute for the Future Of Work's Good Work Charter - IFOW

What next?

The Group is chaired by David Davis MP, Clive Lewis MP and Lord Jim Knight so it can be expected to gain some traction within government. Increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace is likely to make this more of a topic of conversation.

However, it also comes at a time when the EU looks to regulate the use of Artificial Intelligence (which we wrote about here). As noted in the report, the inquiry forms part of the wider debate about AI regulation and the recommendations are intended to inform the UK’s new National AI Strategy (which we wrote about here). Any attempt at regulating AI will be seen as part of the UK PLC's attempt to encourage investment*, so what any legislation may look like will be the subject of close scrutiny and careful balancing act of many competing interests.

*for example, pillar three of the National AI Strategy is to ensure the UK gets the national and international governance of AI technologies right to encourage innovation, investment, and protect the public and our fundamental values.

“We are living through a period of technological transformation that is already having a profound impact on the work and working lives of people across the UK”.

https://www.futureworkappg.org.uk/news/zownl0mx4t4n6smrk4dmzor0oz4djg