New study highlights crucial role of trade unions in algorithmic transparency and accountability in the world of work

photo: IndustriALL

Workers across the world and their representatives are being confronted with algorithmically-driven automation in the workplace through the introduction of automated procedures intended to manage the workforce. This is leading to new forms of workplace surveillance and is possibly undermining workers’ rights.

A new report by AlgorithmWatch, commissioned by the ITUC, calls on trade unions to focus on practical advice and guidance to empower union representatives and negotiators dealing with the challenges that automation places on workers.

The report presents the findings of a global mapping exercise aimed at identifying trade union responses to a growing workplace phenomenon. With the focus on transparency and accountability of algorithms in the world of work, the report includes examples from 26 select countries.

“Trade unions acknowledge that transparency and accountability can help against risks arising from automation in the workplace,” Dr Anne Mollen, Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager at AlgorithmWatch and lead author of the report, explained. “But mostly their activities still centre around formulating ethical guidelines and principles and learning about the impact of automation in the world of work.”

According to the study’s authors, the next step is to accelerate the creation of specific, hands-on tools to support worker representatives.

“Now is the time to foster more exchange between and support for unions to make automation work in the interest of workers,” said Owen Tudor, ITUC Deputy General Secretary. “There is a strong body of trade union principles and policies that provides a good basis for meaningful integration of workers’ interests.

“While unions can negotiate over planning, development and implementation of algorithmic systems, governments must ensure that regulatory and policy settings support this, and employers must be ready to negotiate.

“This includes building concrete systems and mechanisms that can be implemented at enterprise level, to maximise positive outcomes, ensure the benefits are shared and avoid risks to health and safety, unreasonable demands on workers and other possible negative impacts.”

The report advises that inter-union exchanges of effective strategies could be an important tool. As algorithmic management touches in its core the terms and conditions of employment, the importance of these issues cannot be understated.

For questions and interview requests concerning the report:
Anne Mollen
[email protected]


AlgorithmWatch is a non-profit research and advocacy organization that is committed to watch, unpack and analyse algorithmic/automated decision-making (ADM) systems and their impact on society. While the prudent use of ADM systems can benefit individuals and communities, they come with great risks. In order to protect human autonomy and fundamental rights and maximise the public good, we consider it crucial to hold ADM systems accountable to democratic control.

The research was conducted on behalf of the ITUC that represents 200 million workers in 168 countries and territories and has 332 national affiliates. As the world’s main global confederation of national union centres, its mandate is focused on the protection of workers’ rights, social and economic justice, anti-discrimination, Just Transition to a zero-carbon future, development, peace and democracy.