Workers and HR ‘not being consulted enough’ over AI, warn Unions and CIPD

While the Prime Minister recently opened Tech Week with the announcement of new investment in tech, Prospect, a union which represents a growing number of tech workers, has revealed that employers are comprehensively failing to consult workers when it comes to introducing technology into the workplace.

Exclusive polling carried out for Prospect by YouGov shows that just 34% of employees (12% very confident, 22% fairly confident) are confident that their employer will consult them or involve them in decisions relating to the introduction of new tech in the workplace. 58% are not confident they will be involved (24% not very confident, 34% not at all confident).

It seems that there is a conversation gap when it comes to talking tech in the workplace.  The latest CIPD research,  People and machines: from hype to reality, found that HR were also being left out of tech discussions.

Their research identifies that far from being a threat to jobs, AI is likely to create more jobs and increase job satisfaction, however it identified the failure to include HR at an early stage could allow employee mistrust to creep in.

It’s not happening at the moment, the CIPD research found only 55% of employers introducing AI included HR in the decision-making process – and only 45% consulted HR during the implementation process.  Most tech decisions seemed to include  only IT, production or operations.

The CIPD have called for employers  to work with HR, as the link between the workforce and the boardroom.  Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, explains:

 “[This report] indicates a real need for HR and longer-term workforce planning, but too often HR struggles to be part of the conversation,” said Cheese. “Instead, people professionals should be taking the lead, orchestrating the debate on who does what work and where, when and how technology interacts with those processes.”

HR communications expert Kay Phelps, owner of PR in HR, also believes that HR needs to take the lead on communicating about AI with employees.  She explains:

“Not only is it down to the business to involve HR in any AI plans, but it is up to HR to take an active role, ensuring they are involved in every conversation, positively communicating with employees and providing the link between the boardroom and every employee.”

Meanwhile, Prospect believes the Government also needs to involve worker representatives  in its work around Artificial Intelligence and new technology.  The union raised concerns that Ministers have overlooked workers in a range of national initiatives set up to ensure that the development of new technology and automation helps at work, pointing out that there are no union or worker representatives on the board of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) or the recently announced AI Council.

Mike Clancy, Prospect General Secretary, spoke about the role of unions and workers in tech, addressing the AI conference CogX in London on 11 June, where he stressed the importance of including unions in tech planning and the importance of involving workers in the implementation of tech and AI within the workplace. Clancy firmly believes that tech is an opportunity and employers can assuage staff concerns by including them in the process, delivering significant mutual benefits.

Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said:

“There are huge opportunities for business and for workers in the intelligent use of tech and AI in the workplace. But if workers feel that change is being done to them, rather than being done with them, then those opportunities will be squandered.

“Our research suggests that businesses are not doing anywhere near enough to involve workers before implementing new tech. We have already seen a ‘techlash’ from citizens against social media companies, we need to avoid a second one from employees against AI at work.

“We know that tech will revolutionise the world of work, so it makes no sense to ignore the voices of workers and the representatives when thinking about the impact of tech on society.

“Ultimately, the government needs to take a lead on this before it is too late. Prospect is ready to help workers be heard in the debate and make sure that we all benefit from the extraordinary potential of technology in the decades ahead.”

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