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TUC launches AI taskforce for workers’ rights and societal benefit

The Trades Union Congress has launched what it calls an AI ‘taskforce’ to draft an AI and Employment Bill, aimed at safeguarding workers’ rights, early in 2024

The Trades Union Congress has launched an AI “taskforce” and is calling for new laws to safeguard workers’ rights and ensure the technology has broad social benefits.

The taskforce, which the TUC said will corral specialists in law, technology, politics, HR and the voluntary sector, will publish an AI and Employment Bill early in 2024. It will then lobby to have the bill incorporated into UK law.

The bill will be drafted by employment lawyers Robin Allen KC and Dee Masters from the AI Law Consultancy, with assistance from Cloisters barristers’ chambers.

The taskforce has already stated that AI is making “high-risk, life-changing” decisions about workers’ lives – such as line-managing, hiring and firing staff. It is also 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, the taskforce is warning.

The TUC said the UK risks become an “international outlier” on the regulation of AI. While the EU has already drafted specific legislation to regulate AI at work, the UK’s government’s position is for a “light touch” approach.

It added that government ministers have failed to put in place the necessary “guardrails” to protect workers’ rights, with March’s AI whitepaper proposing only a principles-based approach that lacks statutory force.

The TUC is calling for a legal duty on employers to consult trade unions on the use of “high risk” and intrusive forms of AI in the workplace, and for 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.

It is also demanding amendments to the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) and Equality Act to guard against discriminatory algorithms.

The TUC will spearhead the taskforce and draw on the assistance of an advisory committee that will include people from Tech UK, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the University of Oxford, the British Computer Society, CWU, GMB, USDAW, Community, Prospect, and the Ada Lovelace Institute.

Chairing of the committee will lie between TUC assistant general secretary Kate Bell and executive director of the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at the University of Cambridge Gina Neff.

Bell said: “AI is already making life-changing decisions about the way millions work – including how people are hired, performance-managed and fired. But UK employment law is way behind the curve – leaving many workers vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination.

“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 the Wild West. We all have a shared interest in getting this right.”

Neff added: “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.”

MPs David Davis (Conservative), Darren Jones (Labour), Mick Whitley (Labour), and Chris Stephens (SNP) will also sit on the committee.

The taskforce said it is vital that workers’ groups and the wider voluntary sector are invited to attend the global summit on AI being hosted at Bletchley Park this year by Rishi Sunak, alongside business groups and employers.

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