Human management

EU rules on ‘construction workers’ seem to hold back algorithmic management

Companies employing “concert” workers should be more transparent about the use of algorithmic management and surveillance under rules proposed by the European Commission Last week. The rules, if they come into force, should be extended to all workers under management by automated systems, according to workplace experts.

As with other European Union laws, the rules would affect American businesses with temporary workers in the region.

The Commission’s Algorithmic Management Directive proposals were one of three sets of measures announced last week, including granting employee status to those working with ‘digital work platforms’. This group includes ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, as well as delivery companies like Deliveroo and informal home service work platforms like TaskRabbit.

There are an estimated 28 million on-demand workers in the EU, the Commission said, a number expected to rise to 43 million by 2025.

Algorithmic management proposals aim to provide workers with greater protection against the negative effects of automated systems used to control aspects of work together.

“It is a step forward in the awareness of the risks engendered by algorithmic management, and a more careful approach than what has come from the Commission so far”, said Valerio De Stefano, professor of law at the work at the Belgian university KU Leuven.

Algorithmic management explained

Algorithmic management is a key element of digital work platforms. It involves tools and techniques used to automate aspects of worker coordination, such as task assignment and performance monitoring, and relies on data collection and monitoring instead of human supervision.

However, the use of algorithmic management has raised concerns about the ability of “black box” systems to monitor and evaluate workers, with few opportunities for workers to challenge decisions.

A Worker Info Exchange report this week, a nonprofit group, highlighted the prevalence of monitoring of gig workers and the lack of recourse workers have when problems arise: ride-sharing drivers being stranded on their accounts due to software failures facial recognition, is one example.

The detrimental effects of algorithmic management and monitoring of platform workers were highlighted in a report by UK MPs last month. “The ubiquitous monitoring and targeting technologies, in particular, are associated with pronounced negative impacts on mental and physical well-being, as workers are under the extreme pressure of constant and time-consuming micro-management. real and automated assessment, ”said members of the Parliamentary Assembly from all parties. group in their report, The new frontier: artificial intelligence at work.

Automated task distribution and performance measurement aren’t inherently problematic, said Helen Poitevin, vice president analyst at Gartner, but problems can arise with over-reliance on technology and insufficient human interaction. “It’s when you have no support system to help you [workers] grow and learn, or have a place to go if the machines aren’t working and you have to be able to raise the flag, ”she said. “You have to have the support in place. “

The Commission’s proposals focus on greater transparency around the use of algorithmic management tools for concert workers. This includes:

  • Educate workers on how automated systems are used to make decisions and take actions that “significantly affect” working conditions.
  • Limits to the collection of worker data that is not strictly necessary, especially in relation to private conversations or data relating to health or emotional state.
  • Human monitoring of automated systems. This involves assessments to ensure that workers are not faced with psychological and health risks caused by algorithmic decision making.
  • Provide workers with the ability to challenge automated decisions that affect their work. This has been a problem for gig workers who have faced termination or suspension of their account without being told why.
  • An obligation for platform providers to consult worker representatives on major changes to decision-making systems.

The Commission’s proposals build on existing EU legislation on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which includes protections for workers around data collection. However, the GDPR does not provide the same clarity on algorithmic management as the proposed rules for concert workers, said De Stefano, and the Commission notes the difficulties that concert workers face in asserting their individual rights in the GDPR.

Beyond simple workers?

Jeremias Adams-Prassl, professor of law at the University of Oxford in the UK, welcomed the proposed rules for automated decision-making. “Much of the debate has centered on the employment status of platform workers and the directive examines that, but it also goes beyond,” Adams-Prassl said, calling the proposals “a really important first step. “.

He argued that the scope of the rules should be widened to include all workers now managed and monitored by automated systems – not just those in jobs in the odd-job economy. “The odd-job economy is not necessarily a silo of the labor market: I would suggest that legislators seriously consider extending these rights to all workers, not just platform workers,” he said. he declares.

Algorithmic management and monitoring have been deployed by companies in various industries in recent years. Warehouse workers, for example, often face algorithmic control and monitoring, many of which are tracked and directed through software. And in the retail industry, automated shift planning software is sometimes used by employers.

More generally, those in more traditional office jobs have also been subjected to increasing levels of productivity monitoring with the rise of surveillance tools during the COVID-19 pandemic, relying on captures of data. automated screen and keystroke recording, for example.

“We see similar challenges in the workplace across the socio-economic spectrum, but the odd-job economy was certainly the birthplace of a lot of these technologies, which is why we’re starting to see regulators responding to them in this. specific context, ”Adams- says Prassl.

De Stefano said: “The big challenge now will be to extend the protection of the [EC’s digital labor platform directive] to all workers, otherwise we will fundamentally [have] a segmented labor market in which only platform workers are significantly protected. “

Preparing the ground for global protections?

As with any European law, new rules around algorithmic management could have a wider effect beyond the 27 Member States.

If the European Commission’s proposals were accepted, US-based temporary employment companies present in the EU would have to comply with the regulations applicable to works in that region. Adams-Prassl highlighted the “Brussels effect”, where EU law such as GDPR impacts other regions and countries. This could prove to be true with rules regarding the algorithmic management of concert workers.

“Even though they are not bound by the GDPR, there are a lot of companies in the United States [that are affected by it]: Once you create a GDPR compliant product, you end up using it all over the world. So we can see a kind of strong “Brussels effect” [where the latest move] becomes the new standard expected for platforms.

The proposals will have to be debated by the European Parliament and the Council before they can enter into force. There is no set timeline for implementation, and because the rules will need to be negotiated among member countries, they might not be in place until 2024 or later.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.