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"We need to strengthen rights and protections for workers in digitalised work-places"

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Meet the Fellows who are looking to accelerate their commitment to good work. Launched in September 2021, the RSA's Good Work Guild brings together a diverse global community of policymakers, investors, unions, grassroots problem-solvers, social entrepreneurs, start-ups, worker advocates and business leaders looking to shape the future of work.

Based in Denmark, Christina Colclough is the founder of the Why Not Lab, a boutique consultancy that addresses labour market power imbalances by training unions and workers across the world on digital technologies and their impact on workers' rights and human rights. This includes helping unions to form digital policies and demands, as well as inspire the use of privacy-preserving responsible tech. She shares eight key ingredients that make up her vision of "rewarding work".

What has shaped your understanding of "good work"?

For me "good work" means Rewarding Work. Rewarding work is both a verb, an action: something we as individuals, or as a society, do. We reward the work of others. Either through praise, appraisal, good working conditions or through monetary rewards (pay), or that we honour and reward the environmentally-friendly nature of the work. Rewarding work is also an adjective - it qualifies the noun "work". Work can be decent, stressful or exploitative - it can also be Rewarding. As an adjective, Rewarding Work is a feeling, an attitude about one's own work. Do I feel fulfilled? Satisfied? Seen and appreciated? Work should be Rewarding in many forms:

  1. Financially (all workers should earn at least a living wage, rents should be controlled)
  2. Socially (all workers should have the right to thrive at work but also outside of work, be part of a collective, have the possibility to claim their rights and have them enforced)
  3. Emotionally (no worker should be abused, exploited, harassed or lonely at work. Nor should workers suffer mentally due to exploitative working conditions and contracts)
  4. Environmentally (we all should care about our environment, not least should the companies we work for)
  5. Contractually (all workers should have a contract stipulating their rights and the company's duties in relation to these rights. This covers not least workers' digital rights)
  6. Intellectually (all workers should feel their competencies and skills are respected and desired, and that competency growth is a natural part of work)
  7. Digitally (all workers should have agency and influence over digital technologies used by the employers)
  8. Work should be fulfilling.

So good work is work that is free from exploitation and where the labour of all workers is rewarding and rewarded.

Where do you want to see breakthrough change?

We need to remember that the vast majority of us are wage-earners, i.e. workers. Yet the rights and protections for workers in digitalised workplaces are underexposed, underdeveloped and underprioritised. So this must change. We need new global conventions on workers' collective data rights, on the co-governance of algorithmic systems, and on the 'right to rest'. We need to put stringent requirements on employers to be transparent around the digital systems they are deploying, and they must be required to do impact assessments that are audited by third party. We need to work together to develop responsible tech that has privacy at its core. We need to ban trading in human futures, i.e. in data and algorithmic profiles and inferences. And we need to put all of this into a human rights framework. To make this happen, we need funding for participatory action research on all of the above.