Published: 18/10/2022
Category: On The Job
Published: 18/10/2022
Category: On The Job

Starting a new job can be hectic and stressful. It’s a change of routine, there’s new people to meet, a different role to master, and all those forms to fill in. So. Many. Forms.

Do you ever ask yourself why your employer needs all that information about you and where it goes? What happens to it when you leave that job? Also, how much of that information is necessary to have in the first place?

With massive data breaches at big forms like Optus and Telstra crashing the headlines recently, Australians are becoming increasingly concerned about their personal data and who has access to it.

Australian Council of Trade Unions President Michele O’Neil told On the Job that there was an urgent need to protect workers data.

“This is an issue because more and more data is being collected by people. Often when we see stories it’s about how customer’s data has been breached,” she said.

“Not long after the Optus hack there was an example where 30,000 Telstra workers’ data was exposed, because Telstra provided it to a third-party company.”

“The details of workers and their private data was stolen. So what this made us realise is that there is an enormous and increasing amount of data that employers are collecting about workers,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil described how employers were collecting a scope of information on their workers that was becoming increasingly personal and sensitive.

“Things like their home address, their tax and bank details, health information, but also now with increased monitoring things like biometric data, location data, really private information,” she said.

 “There are not good laws or regulations in Australia about what rights workers have in terms of what is collected about them by their employer, and then how it’s stored and how it’s disposed.”

The ACTU outlined necessary boundaries for the use of working people’s data by their employers:

  • Employers should be required to protect the data of their employees.
  • Workers should have a right to access data collected about them, including the right to have that data rectified, blocked or erased.
  • Workers must be consulted and an agreement reached before the introduction of new systems which enable surveillance or monitoring of workers.
  • Data collected should be limited to only what is absolutely necessary.
  • Policies and processes for data collection should be transparent and available to workers and their unions.
  • Biometric and GPS or location data should only be collected where there is no other viable option.
  • These rights should be implemented and enforceable via collective bargaining.

O’Neil pointed out that data collection by employers is also a commodity that is exploited by some companies for profit.

“[The data is used] is not just by their employers, because the employers then pass this data on to other bodies. So it’s been monetised. It’s worth money, this data,” she said.

“There is nothing that currently controls employers from selling this data on to third parties. So we have a real gap in workers’ rights here.”

There should be requirements on employers to protect the data of the people that work for them. Workers should have a right to know what data is being collected, have it corrected if it’s wrong, and have it blocked or erased.

Michele O’Neil
ACTU President

Michele O'Neil  -  ACTU President

 O’Neil said union members will be stepping up in their efforts to protect workers’ data and ensure the proper consultation processes take place.

“We’re going…to ensure that there is an increased obligation on employers to protect workers’ data, and an increased right for workers to know what’s going on and to have agreed to how their data is stored and used.”

If you’re unsure of what data your employer can ask from you, contact your union.

Learn about your privacy rights at work

Cover photo credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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