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Unions call for workplace snooping clarification

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The TUC is calling for clear guidelines to halt prevent employers snooping without reason on their staff.

Trade unions say new Information Commissioner Richard Thomas must protect workers and publish a long-overdue code of conduct that has been under review for the last couple of years.

Union officials claim the information tsar is being lobbied by employers to water down guidelines which would give management greater scope to monitor the use of email and the Web at work.

The TUC reckons the latest draft of the unimplemented code "gets it about right" by ensuring that employers have a justifiable reason before breaching employee privacy.

Critics claim the current lack of guidance from the Information Commission means that employers and workers are unsure about their legal rights and responsibilities under current data protection laws.

The TUC's plea follows yesterday's interview in the FT in which Mr Thomas signalled that he intended to review the code of conduct giving rise to yet further delay.

He also hinted that he might be prepared to give even more concessions to employers in a bid to simplify the code.

In a statement Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary Elect, said: "We have been waiting more than a year for a code of practice. Employees and employers have been left in legal limbo. There has been adequate consultation and the first item on the new Information Commissioners agenda should be the publication of the code of practice.

"He should resist the last gasp employer lobbying to weaken the code. He should publish and be praised," he said.

Last year Tory MP Michael Fabricant said he was looking to introduce a Bill that would stop employers from snooping on employees' email.

The Lichfield MP wants to give the same level of privacy in law for emails, as currently exists for conventional mail and telephone calls.

Mr Fabricant says he is looking to introduce the legislation at a time when a growing number of employers are monitoring their employees' email.

One report found that one in five of firms monitors employee Net usage on a daily basis, compared with one in ten 18 months ago. The same survey also found that email and Net abuse at work have become the number one reason why UK employees face the sack. ®

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