Game that you can’t win? New report on workplace surveillance in Germany and Poland
Bronowicka, Joanna, Mirela Ivanova, Wojciech Klicki, Seán King, Eva Kocher, Julia Kubisa, and Justyna Zielińska. 2020. ‘‘Game That You Can’t Win’? Workplace Surveillance in Germany and Poland’. Frankfurt (Oder): European University Viadrina. https://doi.org/10.11584/opus4-494 Download PDF
This report concludes a project about workplace surveillance in Poland and Germany with a particular focus on monitoring in call centres. In order to understand normalisation of surveillance technologies at work, we studied how this process is affected by legal norms, political discourse and attitudes of the call centre employees in both countries. We analyzed the German and Polish law following the coming-into-force of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We also conducted in-depth interviews with call centre employees, as well as with experts from trade unions, employer’s associations, and public institutions, who influence the political discourse on the topic. The interviews revealed that despite the recent legal changes, prompted by the introduction of the GDPR, experts from both countries still consider current legislation on workplace monitoring as too imprecise. We also found that call centre employees had very little awareness of their rights concerning privacy and data protection at work, and that their attitudes towards workplace surveillance varied greatly depending on their norms and values, as well as on the workplace conditions.
• The digital methods used for qualitative and quantitative control of call centre operators were often a complex mix of hardware and software solutions. At the same time, middle management played an active role in enabling the proper functioning of monitoring technologies.
• Levels of employee monitoring in some call centres could be deemed excessive depending on the types of technologies deployed (video surveillance), the purpose of monitoring (performance and behaviour hardware control) and its consequences for the employees (violation of dignity or right to privacy).
• Attitudes towards workplace surveillance varied greatly depending on workplace conditions, as well as the norms and values of the employees. Call centre employees appeared more likely to accept monitoring technologies when they believed that monitoring led to fairer evaluation of employees.
• Call centre employees had very little awareness of their rights concerning privacy and data protection at work, and the introduction of the GDPR had no effect in this aspect. Employees were also not involved in deciding which technologies or metrics are used to monitor them. Low awareness might have prevented employees from identifying violations and seeking redress in courts.
• The introduction of the GDPR did offer an opportunity to increase awareness about workplace surveillance and was used as such by trade unions in Germany who offered trainings to work councils. However, in the absence of concentrated efforts from public institutions, trade unions and non-governmental organisations there is still a huge knowledge gap between experts and employees.
• The introduction of the GDPR and other recent regulations was a challenge for the employers who considered the new rules to be imprecise and expressed a need for more legal certainty. In both countries, stakeholders are expecting the courts to provide clarity about the precise interpretations of the law. In Germany, the need for precision is also fuelling calls for a new national regulation focused specifically on employee data protection.
More about Surveillance at the Workplace project here.