UNI ICTS and P&M put trade unions at the forefront of the AI revolution


UNI ICTS and P&M put trade unions at the forefront of the AI revolution

In a joint session between UNI Global Union’s ICTS and Professionals & Managers World Conferences, union leaders and leading tech researchers discussed the transformative power of artificial intelligence on jobs and unions’ responses to advance workers’ rights. The session, “The Impact of New Technology on the World of Work,” showed why unions must be at the forefront of an AI revolution.  

Janine Berg, Senior Economist and Head of the ILO’s Effective Labour Institutions Unit, kicked off the discussion with a comprehensive analysis of how generative AI automates tasks. Of the potentially 75 million jobs globally that could be automated, she emphasized the disproportionate impact would likely be on clerical support workers, women and workers in high-income nations. However, she also noted the augmentation potential of AI, and said that up to 300 million jobs are at the junction between augmentation and automation. AI could unlock benefits of productivity and increasing both job quality and job quantity. It could also help ensure a more even distribution of income across countries. However, she stressed the full realization of these benefits are contingent on governance of AI and the inclusion of workers in the conceptualization and implementation of the technology on the job.

Next, Lisa Kresge, Lead Researcher in the Technology and Work Program at the University of California, Berkeley, Labor Center discussed the integration of AI into workplace management, including human resource analytics and decision-support systems. Kresge, whose research focuses on collective bargaining strategies in response to technological change, outlined the challenges posed by AI, such as data privacy issues, biased algorithms and job displacement. She advocated for union involvement at all levels of technology adoption and gave three levels of union strategies to address new tech at work: laws and regulations around basic rules of use; collective bargaining to ensure worker input and economic security; and tech co-design by workers. These strategies are necessary for a just technological transition.

Kresge’s points were echoed by Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President of the Communications Workers of America Sylvia J. Ramos. Ramos presented the CWA’s “AI Principles and Recommendations 2023,” which argue for union involvement in the design and implementation of new technologies to ensure they benefit workers. She criticized the prevalent employer-led approach to AI, which often excludes worker, customer and community interests. Ramos detailed the establishment of a national CWA AI advisory committee and stressed the need for educational programmes to prepare both union members and policymakers for the challenges ahead.

“We have a duty to one another and future generations that the promise of AI remains bright, and workers are steering that direction forward,” she said.

Similarly, Odysseus Chatzidis, of Germany’s ver.di gave an overview of the Deutsche Telekom AI Manifesto and its impact on workers’ rights. He explained the principles in the document were born out of the company’s existing ethical guidelines developed in 2018 that ensured transparency and protection against surveillance. Chatzidis, the chair of DT’s European Works Council, also discussed the broader EU regulatory environment, gave examples of the manifesto in action, like workers know they are interacting with AI and not a human being; workers are protected against surveillance; and humans are in control of decision-making processes.

UNI Europa’s Birte Dedden shared insights from a survey conducted across 32 countries, which indicated that while only 20 per cent of trade unions currently have collective bargaining agreements that directly address AI, over 40 per cent are engaged in negotiations around the topic. Dedden highlighted successful examples from Norway and Germany where unions have negotiated rights around AI, including the right to challenge automated decisions and the right to information and consultation.

Participants walked away with a not only a better understanding of the urgent need for worker inclusion in the implementation of AI, the also left with a clearer picture of how unions can be involved in the process – vital for ensuring decent work in a digital age.