Brussels Workshop – Thursday 26th January 2012

Freedom of Association in the Networked Workplace: discussion workshop

Thursday 26th January 2012
1pm – 7pm
Rue Gallait – Gallaitstraat 80
1030 Brussels


Participation is free, but places may be limited. Please contact us to reserve a place.

Contact for more information or enquiries.


Ongoing developments in IT and social media are changing the boundaries and structure of the workplace, causing a blurring of distinctions between private and work-related activities. This is raising new issues in regard to the extent of surveillance applied by businesses towards their employees. Attempts to control workplace communications are however conflicting with a number of basic employment rights. This workshop seeks to address these issues with a specific focus on the potential impacts of emerging surveillance cultures on the rights of Freedom of Association in the networked workplace. It aims to bring together a range of researchers and union activists with a view to building a more substantial network for investigation, analysis and intervention.

The workshop follows from a panel presented at the CPDP (Computers, Privacy and Data Protection) conference 2012 and will expand upon and explore issues raised at that panel in greater depth. A summary of the panel discussion will be presented as part of the workshop and attendance at CPDP is not essential to participation.

Participants include: Gabriella Alberti, Queen Mary University of London, researching migrant workers organising and social movement unionism; Kirstie Ball, Open University and Surveillance Studies Network; Leigh French, Variant magazine and Strickland Distribution; Christian Fuchs, Uppsala University, researching the political economy of social media and its development as a new workplace; Seda Guerses, K. U. Leuven, researching on workplace surveillance and online social networks; Dave Hollis, NetzwerkIT, developing online systems for workplace activists; Owen J. Logan, University of Aberdeen and Flammable Societies network; Tonia Novitz, University of Bristol, research on Freedom of Association and workers’ rights; Simon Yuill, Strickland Distribution, researching software culture and politics.

The workshop will take the format of short presentations and facilitated discussion. Open slots are available for proposed presentations or outlines of existing projects and organisations. Please contact us if you are interested in speaking.


The workshop is hosted by Constant VZW.



Computers, Privacy & Data Protection CPDP conference


Gabriella Alberti

Kirstie Ball (Surveillance Studies)

Leigh French (Variant magazine)

Christian Fuchs

Seda Guerses

Dave Hollis (NetzwerkIT)

Owen J. Logan (Flammable Societies)

Tonia Novitz

Simon Yuill (Strickland Distribution)

CPDP2012 Proposal

The rights of workers to freedom of association, to organize, and collectively bargain, are defined in the International Labour Organisation’s “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention” (Convention C87) and “Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention” (Convention C98). These derive from the broader right of freedom of association defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and are currently ratified by 150 countries internationally. These rights support the presence and activities of trade unions in the workplace and include provisions that workers shall not be subject to anti-union discrimination and interference by employers and outside bodies in the establishment, functioning or administration of unions and workers’ organisations.

The expansion of ICT in the workplace is influencing and reshaping the expression of this right and the context in which it can be exercised in a number of ways: casualised ‘boundaryless’ work structures, ICT as the only or primary means of communications between workers, computer-mediated management techniques, as well as a lack of clear guidelines as to how these rights can be facilitated in such contexts, and variations between countries in laws relating to company management of ICT. This in turn has significant implications regarding issues of privacy, data protection, and surveillance in the workplace, and raises the question whether the practices and legal framework relating to these issues fully addresses or integrates the needs and rights of freedom of association or even undermines them. Whilst the processing of data revealing trade union membership is in itself prohibited by Article 8 of Directive 95/46/EC, concerns have been raised over the misuse of rights given to employers in some countries (such as the UK) to process and block email correspondence and computer usage that they consider potentially detrimental to business operations, incidences of ‘Facebook profiling’ and surveillance of workers’ online social network activities, and legal challenges over the validity of email ballots in union organizational activities. The relations between freedom of association and ICT may therefore be seen as an important arena of contestation over computer privacy and data protection policies in the workplace as expressed both in technical and legal frameworks.

Significant anecdotal evidence relating to this, mostly relating to abuses of workers’ rights, or to a weakness in fully enabling these rights within ICT based work contexts, has been reported in a number of countries. Whilst a certain amount of academic research relating to these issues exists there is a need for greater empirical evidence gathering, in-depth analysis, and critical evaluation of what constitutes a major area of development and change within the contemporary workplace. This panel seeks to bring together a range of perspectives through which the topic can be more substantially identified and addressed.