What trade unions need to know about algorithms in the workplace

Companies in Switzerland are increasing their use of algorithmic systems in the workplace. Worker participation is an important factor to make sure that this technological transformation has positive effects on employees. This publication sums up what trade unions need to know about algorithmic systems in the workplace and how they can enable employee participation.

Bettina Dürr
Bettina Dürr
Policy Manager & Researcher

Workers in Switzerland are increasingly exposed to the use of algorithmic systems. Trade unions need to uphold the rights and interests of workers and ensure effective participation. To do so, they not only need basic knowledge of the topic, but also practical pointers of how they can empower employees to be part of the participation process.

The publication “Algorithms in the Workplace: Empowering Employees – Enabling Participation” is mostly aimed at trade unions. But it is also helpful for workers’ councils and employees interested in the topic.

The document covers five key subjects:

  1. Relevance of the topic for trade unions: For trade unions it is important to stand up for workers’ rights when algorithmic systems are used, as they can represent the collective interests and responsibilities which are necessary to shape these transformation processes.
  2. Algorithmic systems: To assess the impacts of algorithmic systems on workers, trade unions need basic understanding how these systems work. Therefore, different use cases are highlighted.
  3. Legal basics: There are various rights and duties currently regulating the relationship between employers and employees which also apply to the use of algorithmic systems in the workplace. In this context, not only the individual but also the collective interests and risks need to be considered.
  4. Ethical basics: When algorithmic systems are used in the workplace, the ethical perspective also needs to be considered. This encompasses intrinsic values such as justice and wellbeing, as well as procedural values such as transparency and control.
  5. Participation processes: For worker participation, trade unions can also refer to a legal framework that gives certain rights to employees. Worker participation is possible and necessary in different phases of the development of algorithmic systems. Trade unions have different options to demand worker participation.

Each key subject is split up into several modules. Each module contains:

For more detailed information about legal perspectives on worker participation when algorithmic systems are being used in the workplace, please have a look at the report on this topic.

The publication is part of the project "Analytics for the People? What algorithms at the workplace mean for worker rights and participation".

Project partner: