Labour Rights in the Internet Age

By: Tammy Katsabian

The PhD dissertation seeks to examine how the internet era is influencing labour law in a way that requires a new understanding and redefinition of basic concepts in this field, including fundamental workers’ rights. The research will consist of a series of articles focusing on the effects of the internet era on three issues: the right to private life and privacy; the definition of “employee”; and freedom of association. The main premise of the dissertation is that the internet platform and virtual technology have a significant role in the history of labour, so as we might even perceive the internet age as a separated phase in the global history of labour. Consequently, the basic argument of each of the articles is that the increasing use of virtual technology is having a substantial impact on basic understandings and fundamental beliefs regarding workplaces, employer-employee relations, questions pertaining to supervision, boundaries of time and place in the modern workplace, and as a result – on labour law and labour rights. The dissertation will explain this impact and put forward proposals regarding the labour law reforms required to address it.

The first article on the right to privacy will address the question of how the internet era affects the employee's right to private life and privacy in both its classical meaning, and, what I would call, its modern meaning. This question is challenging especially when employees, at times, are playing an active role in “violating” that right by posting private information about themselves that may be accessible to their employer. Should these new incidents be perceived as part of the right to privacy? And if so, what old-new social dimension does the right to privacy needs to have in order to assert its relevance to the modern workplace, and how should we guarantee the reputation of the employer and her business as well?  

Virtual technology has created new types of workplaces that vary from the traditional ones, raising the question of whether their workers should be perceived as employees. The question of who is an employee in the internet era is the focus of the second article. In that article I will explore three diverse cases dealing with some of the many ways people can work today – whether it is conducting tasks during their leisure time at home, crowdsourcing work, or sharing-economy work. What, if anything, do these new ways of working in the internet era have in common? And what kind of new articulations and regulations of the definition of “employee” are needed in order to deal with these cases and guarantee protection of workers’ rights? I will examine these questions, and others, in the second article.

Finally, the last article will deal with the question of freedom of association in the internet age. The internet creates a new set of obstacles for those who wish to enjoy their freedom of association, and it does so in a way that might even diminish the number of trade unions. Unlike in the industrial age, the internet era is organized differently, in a more flexible manner, and it is characterized less by the representation of the employee via unions and more by the individual worker with her individual employment contract. Furthermore, in the internet age, many workers are working from home much of the time, making it impossible for them to meet each other, share their common difficulties and interests at work, create solidarity, and establish the imperative foundation for unionizing. The third article will deal with these and other new challenges (alongside opportunities) that trade unions are facing in the internet era.