Tech union sees membership grow as workers face lay-offs and increased surveillance

Membership to the tech union has nearly tripled in the last 6 months


Union awareness in the traditionally non-unionised tech sector is growing, as workers face increased challenges against lay-offs, workplace surveillance and algorithmic management.

The United Tech and Allied Workers (UTAW) group is a branch of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) representing workers in the tech industry.

Membership for the branch nearly tripled in the last 6 months to over 2,000 members, having grown steadily since its launch in October 2020, the union told LFF.

The union cited the current economic situation, increased lay-offs in the tech industry and a growing awareness for the need to be represented in a traditionally non-unionised sector as main reasons for its growth.

Starting as a loose group of activists and tech workers across the UK, the branch has worked its way up to gain a foothold in big tech organisations.

Over the last year they have become more intentional in organising at specific workplaces such as Monzo, Apple stores and now starting in Google.

Lay-offs have been sweeping the tech industry, reaching over 200,000 in the past year, as companies such as Google, Apple and Meta cite squeezed advertising spending and slowed revenue as the main reasons.

Waves of redundancies in the sector are a major concern for workers in a vulnerable economic climate, who are also dealing with an increase in intrusive workplace surveillance.

According to a recent report in The Telegraph, Monzo’s fintech has been tracking staff screen time, with staff required to work on their devices for 85% of the day and slackers called out in meetings.

Although tech workers are generally paid fairly well compared to larger parts of the public and private sector, there are concerns around the fair distribution of pay within companies and the disparity in pay scales.

UTAW does not solely represent white-collar workers but anyone working within the tech sector, including cleaners and shop workers.

They are currently organising with workers in the White City Apple store to negotiate improvements in pay and conditions.

Among the requests asked of the $2 trillion company are; increasing pay in-line with the cost of living, better pay for anti-social hours and a reduction in metric-driven management and task time tracking.

Also included is improved, flexible shift patterns, which was reduced since the company moved to a more automated and rigid way of managing shifts, according to UTAW.

Organising is made more difficult in industries such as tech where staff are more likely to work remotely or in non-traditional work environments.

Private companies also put in restrictions and organisation policies that make it harder for workers to have conversations with colleagues around unions.

Apple has been accused of using ‘union-busting’ activities by the UTAW, who say managers are using tactics such as misleading workers about unions, intimidating them to vote against unionisation and encouraging a culture of staff reporting on colleagues’ union conversations.  

Rich Gall, Communications Officer for the tech branch, said workers have had to find their own way to share information, such as using AirDrop or through their own communication channels.

The union hopes that workers in the tech sector can grow more of a voice and gain power in numbers to fight against threats to their working rights.

In an interview with Dave Ward, General Secretary of the CWU, earlier this year he mentioned the growth of the tech sector in his union.

“We represent members in companies that are facing technology changes, automation changes, which is going to be very difficult,” Ward told LFF.

“One sector in our union that’s growing steadily is the tech sector.

“Often workers are coming together from disparate groups of companies and the people who set a lot of the technology that is then used against workers are now organising themselves, because they see how unfair it is that their efforts have been used against workers.”

Hannah Davenport is trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward

(Photo credit: Creative Commons / Flickr)

Left Foot Forward’s trade union reporting is supported by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust

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