Workers and employers are ‘crying out for certainty’ over how AI should be used in the workplace

AI image TUC
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The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has launched an artificial intelligence (AI) taskforce to address the threat of new technology to workers in the UK. It will bring together leading specialists in law, technology, politics, HR, and the voluntary sector. The taskforce’s chief mission will be to fill the current gaps in UK employment law. It will draft new legal protections to ensure AI is regulated fairly at work for the benefit of employees and employers.

The TUC aims to publish an expert-drafted ‘AI and Employment Bill’ early in 2024. It will then lobby the government to incorporate it into UK law.

TUC: wide-ranging coalition on AI

The work of the taskforce will be led by the TUC and assisted by a special advisory committee. Members of that committee will include:

In addition, David Davis MP, Darren Jones MP, Mick Whitley MP, and Chris Stephens MP will also sit on the committee.

The Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy will provide the secretariat for the taskforce, and the committee will be jointly chaired by:

  • Kate Bell – TUC assistant general secretary.
  • Gina Neff – executive director of the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at the University of Cambridge.

The ‘AI and Employment Bill’ will be drafted by leading employment lawyers Robin Allen KC and Dee Masters from the AI Law Consultancy.

Tories: ‘way behind the curve’

The taskforce is being launched as experts warn that the UK is “way behind the curve” on the regulation of AI. UK employment law has failed to keep pace with the development of new technologies. Employers are also uncertain of how to fairly take advantage of new technologies.

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The taskforce says AI is already making “high-risk, life changing” decisions about workers’ lives. These include line-managing, and hiring and firing staff. For example, AI is being used to analyse facial expressions, tone of voice, and accents to assess candidates’ suitability for roles.

Left unchecked, this could lead to greater discrimination, unfairness, and exploitation at work across the economy. Meanwhile employers are purchasing and using systems without full knowledge of the implications, such as whether they reinforce biases.

UK at risk of being an ‘International outlier’

The TUC says the UK risks becoming an “international outlier” on the regulation of AI. The EU and other countries have already drafted specific legislation to properly regulate AI at work. However, at present the UK’s government’s stated position is a ‘light touch’ approach.

Experts say ministers have yet to put in place the necessary “guardrails” to protect workers’ rights. Moreover, March’s AI White Paper proposed only a principles-based approach that lacks statutory force.

TUC assistant general secretary Kate Bell said:

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.

AI summit

This autumn, prime minister Rishi Sunak will host a global summit on AI. However, the taskforce says it is vital that workers’ groups and the wider voluntary sector are invited to attend alongside business groups and employers.

Executive director of the Minderoo Centre Gina Neff said:

Responsible and trustworthy AI can power huge benefits. But 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.

So, the TUC is calling on the Tories to enshrine a number of protections into law. These include:

  • A legal duty for employers to consult trade unions on the use of ‘high risk’ and intrusive forms of AI in the workplace.
  • A legal right for all workers to have a human review of decisions made by AI systems so they can challenge decisions that are unfair and discriminatory.
  • A set of amendments to the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and Equality Act to guard against discriminatory algorithms.

Featured image via mikemacmarketing – Wikimedia, resized to 1910×1000 under licence CC BY 2.0

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