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Big Brother means little for council workers

PUBLISHED: 13:55 07 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:35 07 September 2010

COUNCIL workers have won their battle against being fingerprinted when clocking in and out of work. Union bosses from Westminster Unison have campaigned against the use of biometric scanners since they were installed in the community protection department

COUNCIL workers have won their battle against being fingerprinted when clocking in and out of work.

Union bosses from Westminster Unison have campaigned against the use of biometric scanners since they were installed in the community protection department in August without consultation.

The move, which cost nearly £10,000, sparked fears of a 'Big Brother' surveillance society and of personal data being leaked.

But after a furious battle by union leaders, council chief executive Mike More has now promised to remove the controversial devices and has said the technology will not be pursued.

Westminster Unison branch secretary Phil Vaughan said he was pleased with the decision but was angry taxpayers' money went to waste.

"It's outrageous, given the fact that Westminster is currently £17million down from Icelandic banks, that they would spend so much money on this type of technology just to remove it," he said.

"But, having said that, I am very pleased that the machines are being removed. All along we have said that we don't oppose clocking in and out, but we don't feel it is necessary for staff to give their fingerprints - and be treated like criminals."

Mr Vaughan met Mr More two weeks ago to explain why the union opposed the policy, and to say that Unison members would be refusing to provide their finger prints.

"Although Mike More clearly supported his managers, he was also concerned about the wider impact on employee relations," said Mr Vaughan.

"We put forward the position that we would organise mass non-co-operation with the technology, and I think he began to understand the wider implication of having a huge battle on his hands."

Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the opposition Labour group at City Hall, welcomed the decision to remove the machines.

He said: "The installation of fingerprint machines for their own staff made Westminster Conservatives the laughing stock of the country.

"No wonder staff and management relations are so awful in Big Brother Westminster, with half of staff not trusting their managers, even by the council's own surveys."

Dean Ingledew, director of community protection, said: "We have decided not to pursue fingerprint scanning for street management staff at the current time, but we do think it is important that we explore ways in which the issues of security, lone working and time monitoring are best addressed.

"We will work closely with the unions on this, and we will ensure staff are properly consulted in any future system we adopt.

"We installed machines in several buildings in order to test the viability of the technology, and I accept that there was some suspicion about intentions which has clouded the whole debate.

"There are clearly benefits to both the council and staff in using biometr ic technology, as long as proper procedures are in place and staff are satisfied that there are adequate safeguards relating to personal data and privacy.

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