Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Finger prints versus timecards I reckon this guy hasn't done himself any favours. Citing religious and ethical reasons, he has complained to the Employment Relations Authority that he was unfairly dismissed, following his sacking for refusal of a 'lawful and reasonable request' by his employer for him to be fingerprinted. Rightly queried by the Authority, he admitted that he would give the Police his fingerprints, thereby invalidating his own defence. Identification There are three ways to identify an employee: via something the employee knows (a password or code) , something the employee has (a key, or a swipe or identity card), or something the employee is (retina/finger scan). Combining the methods creates greater security. At my workplace, the first two are used: a swipe card and password. If I lose the card, then I can't get in, have to ring someone inside to get them to open the door for me (someone who will recognise me) or tailgate someone else inside (again, someone who recognises me). Without the password I can't get onto the computer and do my work. If I forget the password, I have to get it reset (a bit of a hassle). Disclosure of my password is a sackable offence, something that I agree is an appropriate measure. Admittedly, working in a call centre is a different situation to working in a factory. It is easy for someone to clock in for me at the beginning of my shift, but it's pretty hard to create statistics that prove I've been taking calls all night. Although clocking in does not currently require my password, I believe that the system could be easily changed to make it so. I would therefore be loathe to get someone to clock in for me, as I personally believe that it is impossible to keep up a charade like that forever. Perhaps a long time, but tongues blab and a dismissal would always breathe down my neck while at work... The point here is that it is possible to create a double-layer indentification system that is effective in combating fraudulent clock-ins. In the case of the factory, all that would be required would be to make a physical 'check-in' part of the clock in procedure. Either a 'sight-in' whereby the employer or a team leader sights the worker entering the factory, or the worker notifies the team leader that they have arrived for the day, in addition to clocking in. Fingerprinting I disagree that fingerprinting does not impinge on privacy. The difference is to what extent controls exist on what happens with the data afterwards. The primary difference between the Police taking my fingerprint and my employer taking it is that there are policies and legislation in place about what the Police can do with my print. Apart from the employment agreement and certain aspects of the Privacy Act, there is precious little else that stops the employer from extending the use of fingerprinting to more than simply clocking-in. Let's not forget that as a worker, you are entitled to a sense of privacy (if not actual privacy). At the moment, I stop work to go to the loo if I need to and I don't need to notify anyone. No-one knows whether I am in the building if I'm not at my desk and I haven't started up the computer. My swipe card is not used to track my movements (as far as I'm aware). I like it that way. I feel far less comfortable with biometric forms of identification because it connects me in terms of my physical presence to my name or to records, if that makes sense. My anonymity is reduced. I don't mind my name being available but I am kind of uncomfortable about having my photo available. I'm even less comfortable about biometric data being available without proper controls because it removes my anonymity completely. The story I disagree with the distinction between 'mathematical data' and 'actual prints'. If it can identify me, that's all that matters. The fact that the request was not unlawful is besides the point. I think that this was a disgusting assault on a worker's privacy and livelihood, as he is now without a job and without recourse. What the firm has done is justify his dismissal in legal terms, rather than in demonstrative terms. By that I mean that they have classified his refusal as 'gross misconduct' so that they can fire him without fear. He has not been fired by sexual harrassment or for wilful damage or something like that. You get interpretation everywhere you go. I know of several cases where employers have attempted to paint employees' actions as negligent or disobedient or fraudulent and have used the threat of dismissal based on these interpretations. Unfortunately, if you're without resources and on your own, there's not a lot you can do. Employers have to study employment law or pay someone to manage it for them so that wherever possible, they are not held liable for wrongful dismissal. Fair enough. The problem is that most employees don't have a clue. Knowledge is power. On a side note, I observe that the guy wasn't a union member, and the union's resistance against the fingerprinting was labelled as 'token'. Several points here: if the union doesn't have a majority membership, it's unlikely to be able to do anything more than protest. If the guy was a union member they would have done more for him - otherwise it would be unfair to all the union members who do pay their fees. Unions are not the unions of the old award system. Workers have to be active if they want to win issues, they can't rely on union officials to go in and browbeat employers into submission, they just don't have the legal powers to do that anymore. If the workers were really incensed by the requirement and organised themselves, they could all enforce (among other things) a moratorium on clocking in. That would prompt the factory to find an alternative solution very quickly. We see it in medical science and in artificial intelligence: advances are made before rules are in place to govern their existence or use. I would tell my employer to take a hike before I'd agree to be fingerprinted: passwords and swipe cards do the job well enough, as far as I'm concerned.


Post a Comment

<< Home