Big brother is seriously damaging your health

A new report by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) claims that modern methods of workplace surveillance have become so intrusive that they are affecting workers' health.

Phone-tapping, the interception of e-mail and the use of computers to count individual key strokes are now common practice among some of Britain's biggest employers. Used in conjunction with psychological assessment, drug testing, and in some cases, even genetic screening, workplace surveillance, argues the report, is causing depression, an increase in sick leave and repetitive strain injury.

"It's the fat controller in the workplace gone mad," says Carolyn Jones, director of the IER. "Nobody minds CCTV if it's there to protect workers from abuse or assault but nobody wants cameras in the staff toilets either." One of the growing areas of surveillance is the monitoring of workers in insurance and banking call centres where hundreds of employees are seated in rows to answer enquiries from the public. Employers will listen in to check scripts are being followed correctly or that time isn't being wasted in non-sales-orientated conversations.

In a recent court case BT's monitoring of workers at its data processing unit came under judicial scrutiny. The court learnt that the seating arrangements, with senior supervisors sitting at the end of long rows of workers, was something akin to George Orwell's 1984. But more seriously for the workers' health, each typist was expected to attain a minimum of 10,000 keystrokes an hour. BT invested a great deal of time monitoring and recording each typist's keystroke rate. Pay was linked to the hourly keystroke rate with the fastest typists receiving the highest pay. In this kind of pressurised environment, says Jones, it's easy to see how repetitive strain injury can be a problem.

The report's author, Michael Ford, comments: "The health and safety of consequences of monotonous, tightly-regulated tasks involving a loss of autonomy are more and more clear. For others persistent surveillance leads to a sense of insecurity, loss of trust, feelings of inhibition or discontent."

The report, which collected information from its trade union members and other organisations interested in workers' rights, showed that as much as 8 per cent of companies now use drug testing.

Jones says there is evidence that HIV/Aids screening and sexual orientation testing is becoming more popular among employers. Although much of this testing is in its infancy, the IER says it is to the American experience where we should look to see where extensive testing of the workforce might lead. Nevertheless, bosses in this country are still pressing ahead with genetic testing programmes because of the need to protect pension funds from early pay-outs to workers who are more likely to leave work through ill-health. Jones says this kind of testing takes no account of the environmental factors in diseases like cancer and asthma.

Some unions had hoped that the right to privacy enshrined in the new Human Rights Act 1998 would offer protection to workers who feel they are being unfairly monitored. The IER report argues that although it might be possible to challenge some techniques it is too limited in scope to address the myriad ways employers have found to police workforces. The type of workplace in which techniques are employed is also a vital factor: CCTV may be desirable for train workers as a protection against assault but resented in call-centres.

IER is now calling for changes in the law so that employers considering introducing surveillance at work should at least be under a duty to inform the workforce what they are proposing.

`Surveillance and privacy at work' by Michael Ford is available from the Institute of Employment Rights, 177 Abbeville Road, London SW4 9RL.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Financial Analyst - Forecasting - Yorkshire

£300 - £350 per day: Orgtel: Financial Analyst, Forecasting, Halifax, Banking,...

Business Architect - Bristol - £500 per day

£500 per day: Orgtel: Business Architect - Banking - Bristol - £500 per day A...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable