Union hits out over employee surveillance

Snooping on workers through the use of hidden cameras and smart cards or by monitoring their PC use is harming people's health and damaging corporate performance, according to the TUC

The organisation representing many of Britain's unions has accused companies of damaging employee morale and productivity through use of technology to monitor staff.

On Thursday the Trades Union Congress (TUC) attacked the use of 'Big Brother' tactics by UK firms, which it says are actually counterproductive because of the negative impact they have. In an article published in the TUC-backed Hazards magazine, the organisation said that many companies are keeping their employees' telephone calls, email, Web surfing and general computer use under scrutiny, and are also using hidden cameras, smart cards and tracking devices to monitor behaviour.

"Snooping isn't just taking liberties, it's pure folly. Productivity goes down, accidents, ill-health and sick leave go up and the workforce feel more like felons than valued employees," warned Hazards editor Rory O'Neil. "If employers want to know what their staff are doing they should ask them. Consultation and participation are not dirty words, they are the key to a productive workplace."

Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, companies are permitted to monitor their employees' email and telephone calls. This has led to several cases where workers have been sacked for misusing these systems.

Britain's information commissioner recently published a code governing privacy of information in the workplace. The TUC says it welcomes this proposal, but wants it toughened up to restrict employers from using surveillance techniques unless absolutely necessary.