Processing of Employee Data

Increasing customisation and servitisation of manufacturing, as well as the pursuit of more efficiency in OHS and human resource management, can come at the price of the collection and processing of large amounts of data, including data about individual workers (e.g., work presence and absence, rate of task completion, physical information such as heart rate and blood pressure, etc.). These data can 11 also be used to automate and fasten decision-making processes and assessment of work performances. Serious concerns thus emerge not only about individual privacy and protection of personal data but also equality, transparency, and lawfulness of data processing, algorithmic decisionmaking and evaluation.

To deal with this challenge, workers’ reps should deepen their knowledge on privacy regulation and data protection, possibly also thanks to the support of external experts and ask for greater involvement in decision-making processes concerning the collection and analysis of  data. In  this  regard,  the  approach of 

‘negotiating the algorithm’ is being advocated at the international level to encourage workers’ representatives to bargain over the collection of data, the ways of their use and the purposes pursued. The goal of collective bargaining in this field should not merely be the preservation of workers’ privacy against attempts to monitor work, but also greater worker participation in decision-making processes that are increasingly penetrated by data and their possible opaque use.

Since 2019, the Spanish trade union confederation UGT started a campaign aimed at raising awareness among workers’ representatives of issues related to workers’ data protection and the safeguard of fundamental rights in the light of new digital technologies in workplaces. In July 2019, UGT published a handbook regarding how to collectively bargain at the sectoral and company level over these subjects. In the same year, the renewal of the NCLA for metal manufacturing, technologies and services introduced some important provisions, including the establishment of a national Observatory for the industry, tasked with analysing the processes of technological transformation, in order to enable social partners to be proactive and get ahead of current transformations. Moreover, the agreement included a section expressly devoted to workers’ data protection and the safeguard of digital rights. According to it, employers are obliged to inform workers’ representatives in due time about decisions concerning the introduction of digital innovations with possible effects on work environment and labour conditions. In addition to the principles expressed by the European legislation on data processing (e.g. proportionality, minimisation, lawfulness, transparency, integrity, privacy), the NCLA compels employers to outline, along with workers’ representatives, the criteria for the usage of digital devices, by drafting internal guidelines aimed at regulating, among others, the terms of use and access to digital systems, the setup of programmes and the storage of data. Finally, national bargaining parties tasked decentralised bargaining with addressing issues related to data access and rectification, as well as limitation or suspension of data processing.
In Nuovo Pignone, an Italian company of the group General Electric Oil & Gas, every work station is equipped with a panel where the individual worker has to insert the information related to possible malfunction. When this occurs, the system generates an alert with a work order directed to the work team which is in charge of the resolution of possible problems. It is important to underline that before the installation of this device, workers and their representatives succeeded in engaging in a dialogue with management and contributed to the definition of the specific information to be inserted in the panel. Another relevant case in this field is represented by the 2018 collective agreement signed at Partesa (a company operating in the retail sector), which envisages the installation of an application of safe driving in the smartphones provided to the personnel, with the aim of tracking and then improving driving behaviours of employees in the exercise of their duties. As stated in the agreement, feedbacks on individual driving behaviours are provided to the single workers by the app. However, only aggregated driving behaviours (of min. 10 people) shall be collected; they are then returned to the groups of drivers and analyzed in the ‘safety’ meetings, held in each department, with the aim to highlight the significant risks while driving a vehicle and adopt more conscious and less dangerous driving styles.
A very proactive (rather than merely protective) role played by IG Metall in the field of digital transformation regarded, from 2014 to 2016, its contribution to the design of ‘APPsist’, a smart assistance system used in production and aimed at supporting shop floor workers in their activities and allowing managers to flexibly use their employees for the execution of different tasks to the advantage of efficiency and quality standards. The software solution provides a context-sensitive assistance and knowledge system that can be expanded by the integration of augmented and virtual reality technologies. The development of ‘APPsist’ was enabled by a multi-stakeholder partnership, involving not only research centres and universities but also trade unions and employers’ associations, and financed by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. The involvement of IG Metall in the project permitted the union to know from the beginning, even before its application in companies, the functioning of the system, the data it needs and how they are processed.
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