Workplace spying ‘offensive’ to staff

Karen Sweeney
(Australian Associated Press)

Advances in workplace technology are allowing employers to know how long workers are spending in the toilet in a level of surveillance that an economist has labelled “offensive”.

It’s no coincidence that technology benefits employers over employees, according to James Stanford, who told a parliamentary inquiry that innovation is solving the problems faced by those paying for it.

The Centre for Future Work has recommended limits be placed on how companies use electronic systems to monitor, survey and discipline workers, including CCTV, GPS tracking and computer monitoring.

“I think the use in an unregulated format of some of this electronic surveillance is … offensive to the dignity and privacy of workers,” Dr Stanford, the centre’s director, told a Senate inquiry into future employment on Wednesday.

While Dr Stanford has some concerns about technological advancement he doesn’t think mass unemployment as a result is likely, but admits technology is partly to blame for under-use of workers.

While official figures put unemployment at 5.5 per cent, he says the true rate of under-utilisation is around 15 per cent.

“Our research suggests that less than half of the Australian labour force today fills what we once considered a standard job, a permanent full-time job with entitlements that they can count on to support themselves and their families,” he said.

Significant groups of workers will be “displaced and harmed” by the way technology is implemented, he predicted.

But artificial intelligence expert Toby Walsh told the Sydney hearing there would always be a preference for the human touch in some professions, including doctors, psychologists and sales people.

“And there will be lots of people-focused jobs where it’s emotional intelligence that’s very important,” Prof Walsh said.

The inquiry also heard the hospitality sector is struggling to find skilled workers, blaming negative perceptions around workplace-based training compared to university education.

A survey of final year school students last year found only a third saw vocational education and training (VET) and university as equal, Restaurant and Catering Australia policy manager James Coward told the committee.

“So when they’re not actually viewing these things on a level footing it creates this idea hospitality sector work is only a temporary or a transitional kind of work, which is a very damaging perception for hospitality to have to contend with,” he said.


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