[Ireland] Unions Raise Concerns About Surveillance Of Home Workers

20 MAY 2020

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has expressed concerns about employers’ potential use of surveillance software to monitor staff working from home, The Times reports.

Reports from the US have suggested that some companies - including agricultural trade newspaper the High Plains Journal and telecoms outfit Vonage - are using surveillance software for employee monitoring. Pragli and Prodoscore are reportedly popular providers of such technology.

Laura Bambrick - social policy officer with Ictu - said employers often commended the software as a motivational tool standing in as a substitute for a manager being present as you work. “Your employer makes sure your camera is always turned on so they can be sure you’re at your laptop, or they can run programs to time how long it takes you to respond to emails,” Ms Bambrick said.

“This sort of surveillance technique being used by employers is an area that trade unions are going to have to keep an eye on, to see how they develop. They may have to be regulated by legislation, and employment protections are going to have to be updated.”

Richard Grogan - an employment law solicitor - said employers would want to make sure employees were using their work computers solely for work purposes, in addition to ensuring that start, finish and break times were adhered to.

“Employees are kicking up about this quite a lot. The employer’s counterargument is that in the office they were going to check you anyway, so if you’re not agreeing with this system then we can’t have you home working. In reality, it is being used by employers to say, ‘We might not always be checking, but we’re giving ourselves the option to check.’ The employer is saying, ‘It’s my machine and I want to know what was done on it.’”

Mr Grogan does agree that a discussion must be had on monitoring if remote working continues at a high level after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. “If you’re going to have remote workers, you need to have some sort of monitoring in place,” he said.

“One thing I don’t want to see is civil servants deciding all the terms of the legislation without having a proper discussion with workers and business representatives. Employment lawyers need to be part of that process so we get something that works.

“Covid-19 has changed how we work. We’ve been scaling on a 19th-century model where you go to work and you come home. It’s a chance to bring our workplaces into the 21st century.”

Daragh O’Brien - managing director of data governance specialist Castlebridge - said some of the organisations using these monitoring technologies might fail to understand the implications. “As remote working becomes part of the new normal, it’s inevitable that organisations are going to want some way of managing staff. Unfortunately, they often opt for a technology fix rather than a management solution for remote working.”