From education to employment

UK risks becoming an “international outlier” in failing to regulate AI in the workplace – TUC warns ahead of summit

typing in a laptop
  • While the EU and US are taking steps to protect people at work from AI, UK government is “sitting on its hands”, says union body
  • Lack of certainty is bad for workers and employers, TUC tells ministers ahead of AI summit
  • UK employment law urgently needs updating, says TUC
  • Union bodies not invited to Bletchley Park event despite immediate risks to workers

The TUC has today (Wednesday) warned that the UK risks becomes an “international outlier” in failing to regulate AI in the workplace.

The warning comes as world leaders and tech companies meet in England today for the government’s AI safety summit.

The TUC says that while the likes of the EU and the US are taking steps to regulate the use of AI at work, the UK government is “sitting on its hands”.

The EU is just months away from passing ground-breaking legislation to deal with the use of AI.

And President Biden announced on Monday an executive order that will see federal agencies deployed to monitor the risks of artificial intelligence.

The order will include measures to support workers and unions, including:

  • protections against job displacement
  • protections for health and safety, equality and data collection
  • instructions to US employers not to use AI in ways that violates workers’ rights

The TUC says the EU and US’ approach is in stark contrast to that of Rishi Sunak, who said in a speech last week that he “will not rush” to regulate AI.

Urgent need for guardrails

In September the TUC launched a new AI taskforce and is calling for “urgent” new legislation to safeguard workers’ rights and to ensure AI benefits all.

The union body says AI is already making “high-risk, life changing” decisions about workers’ lives – such as line-managing, hiring and firing staff.

And AI is 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 warns.

Meanwhile employers are purchasing and using systems without knowing fully the implications, such as whether they are discriminatory.

Excluded from summit

Despite AI posing immediate harms to people at work, the TUC – and other trade union bodies – were not invited to the summit at Bletchley Park.

The TUC joined with wider civil society on Monday in criticising the summit for marginalising communities and workers “most affected by AI”.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister – signed by more than 100 UK and international organisations – the government was criticised for overly-focusing on speculative risks instead of AI threats in the here and now.

TUC Assistant General Secretary Kate Bell said:

“AI has huge implications for rights at work. It is already making life-changing decisions over how people are hired, performance-managed and fired.

“Without proper guardrails workers are at real risk of discrimination and exploitation.

“But while the likes of America and the EU are acting to protect their workforces, our government is sitting on its hands.

“This is not good enough. We urgently need new employment legislation, so workers and employers know where they stand.

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

Commenting on the exclusion of trade unions – and wider civil society – from the summit Kate added:

“This summit was a historic chance to bring together a wide range of voices to discuss both the immediate and long-term threats AI poses.

“But instead of looking to forge a broad-based consensus, ministers have chosen to exclude workers’ groups.

“This can’t continue. AI is already transforming the way millions work. Unions must be given a seat at the table.”

Related Articles