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Why teachers, workers and trade unions protesting against use of biometric timekeeping system

Written By mediavigil on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 | 1:44 AM

Unmindful of the political resistance against biometric attendance and biometric timekeeping in UK, Australia, New Zealand, USA and in several regions and sectors in India, mainstream political parties including those of socialist persuasion have maintained silence. They have feigned ignorance about protests against the implementation of biometric attendance system i.e. an attendance system. There has been protest against biometric attendance in Durgapur Steel Plant, Steel Authority of India Ltd. The management introduced the Biometric Attendance Recording System with disciplinary actions. Hindustan Steel Workers Union, Durgapur Steel Plant protested against “illegal and illegitimate capturing of fingerprints  of employees and implementation of “Biometric Attendance Recording System” without any lawful authority and in violation of Article-21 of the Constitution of India and other related statutes.”[i] 

(Photo: Letter of Hindustan Steel Workers Union, Durgapur Steel Plant to CEO of Durgapur Steel Plant)

The Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) and Delhi University College Karamchari Union (DUCKU) also protested against the installation and implementation of Bio Metric Attendance system. All schools, colleges, universities and research centres under State Governments and Central Government have introduced and are introducing the procedure of Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar Biometric Attendance Recording System and CCTV system for students, teachers and non-teaching employees. It is mandatory in both private and public institutions. The capturing of fingerprints and iris scan and CCTV is illegal and illegitimate. There has been demands for their stoppage of such initiatives which seem to pave the way for genetic determinism and legitimization of eugenic thinking.[ii] Meanwhile, the students and teachers and non-teaching staff are being coerced to enrol for UID/Aadhaar.

 UID/Aadhaar Enabled Biometric Attendance System (AEBAS) has been designed for government organizations by the Government of India to improve the productivity of employees. The system authenticates attendance using Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar number created by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). It is a cloud based building automation system (BAS) that monitors attendance of government employees in real-time. It is claimed that UID/Aadhaar based attendance system provide employees with the option of easy attendance marking, without having to manually enter their UID/Aadhaar number. It is also claimed that it is “designed for long term, uninterrupted performance with prudent blend of aesthetics, speed, connectivity, convenience and reliability” amidst numerous uninterrupted reports of unreliability of UID/Aadhaar including academic studies pointing out the ugliness and cruelty of starvation deaths due to denial of subsidies, benefits and services.

The proponents of biometric time and attendance system claim that it has brought more precise system to measure group or individual’s activities and attendance. The biometric attendance machine works by capturing unique biological features of individuals such as hand or finger print, iris pattern, voice or DNA as a record for identity verification and allows individuals to perform something that which individuals are obligated or authorized to do. It counts employees’ work schedule, like which employee did what, and at what time did she/he do it. It is claimed that it is a fool proof technology that ensures the accuracy of attendance and dealings with large number of employees.

The claims of interested parties and corporate beneficiaries and proponents is not surprising but the meek submission of most trade unions and opposition parties is intriguing. The lesson from the rebellion of U.K.’s trade against biometric employee scanning is yet to be learnt in India.[iii] U.K. trade union rebels against biometric employee scanning and tracking. It is significant that a major trade union in Australia opposed plans by the government’s welfare body to start using voice biometrics in contact centres.[iv] Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) resisted the introduction of biometric call monitoring and performance management software into frontline client service. The proposed monitoring included voice biometrics recording that tracks the way staff and customers talk. It is germane to note that Australia has abandoned its UID/Aadhaar like National ID project.

In USA, the initiative of collecting biometric data of employees has brought forth the issue of its propriety and its conflict with labour rights and legal provisions.[v] This has created a compulsion for the contractors to bargain with trade unions when it is clear the biometric system is likely to subject employees to additional discipline or increased oversight. The employers are generally not permitted to implement biometric system unless union representatives agree to its use. Some states have framed legal protections for employees with respect to the use of bio­metric technology. New York prohibits employers from requiring employees to be fingerprinted as a condition of employment. Some states have placed conditions on a private or commercial entity’s collection and use of biometric information, based on informed consent. They provide guidance on storage and destruction of such collected data. There is a legal requirement that imposes duty on the data collector to provide notice to individuals whenever security breach occurs. West Virginia federal court found that religious views of an employee conflicted with an employer’s use of biometric technology and ruled that he was entitled to a religious accommodation under federal anti-discrimination law.

In New Zealand, the Employment Court has adjudicated on this issue in OCS Limited v Food Workers Union Nga RingaTota Inc & Anor WN WC 15/06 on 31st August, 2006 and directed that employers will need to consult with employees and obtain their consent before introducing the system of collection of biometric data and the technology needs to be compatible with the contractual obligations of the parties.The employer must take reasonable steps to inform employees of the new measures and to obtain their consent.[vi]

In India, the Khan Mazdoor Karmachari Union (IFTU-Sarwahara) (Mine Workers Employee Union (IFTU-Sarwahara)) protested against this system installed by the management in the Jhanjhra, a fully mechanised mine of Eastern Coalfields Ltd, situated in Raniganj, district Burdwan in West Bengal. 

Their pamphlet titled Bio-Metric Attendance: An attempt to enslave the workers reads:

Despite severe protest by the workers and unions, the Jhanjhra Area Management is implementing an anti-worker biometric attendance system i.e. an attendance system by way of biometric scanning of eyes and the whole face. Apart from this biometric attendance system, there is also a hurried move to install CCTV inside the mines and offices and thereafter, provide the workers GPRS-enabled caps so that the management can keep the workers and employees under continuous strict surveillance…Let’s see why it is necessary for the workers to oppose the biometric attendance and CCTV installation.
First, via this system of attendance, the biometric machine will scan our faces and eyes and keep them online on computer/internet. This fact in itself is illegal, dangerous and worth pondering. Why? Firstly, because the scanned photograph can be, intentionally or unintentionally, misused by any agency (the one that will be privy or have access to the data.). For instance, if any terrorist organization gains access to this data, then it can be used with catastrophic repercussion. We would like to raise the question: in such an eventuality, who will be responsible? The situation accentuates in case of female workers and employees.
It will cast severe question mark on their integrity and respect. Keeping these things in mind only, in a similar instance i.e. Aadhaar Card (Unique Identification System) the Supreme Court gave a verdict, in which, it categorically said that forcibly implementing the biometric identification infringes on the fundamental right of privacy. It is a well-established covenant world over that without permission no one, not even the Government, can keep physical identification of a person. The constitution of India, as is well known, prohibits any agency/ management/ institution, whatsoever it may be, from keeping such data as physical identification of a person under its control and access without one’s due permission
Second, we do not know, nor the management has informed us on the radiations emitted by the scanning machine, but, on the other hand, the workers will have to undergo scanning of their faces and eyes twice a day. Who knows what will be the impact of it on our eyes and faces! Whether management has undertaken concrete scientific investigation about it, we do not know this, too. We demand to know who will be responsible for the possible long term deadly after-effects of the Scanning Machine’s radiation.
Third, how it will have impact on the extra time involved for the attendance of the worker.
Let’s assume that there are 100 workers standing in front of the machine to punch-in their attendance, if one worker takes minimum of 30 seconds (though in reality it may take much more), then for the last worker it will take extra 50 minutes to punch-in his/her attendance. That means he/she will have to leave for the work 50 minutes before the schedule. Same will be the case for punch-out. Who will be responsible for this wastage of time and who will compensate for this loss?
Fourth, the confidence of workers is vital. In case of the machine malfunctioning or it being out of order, or if it fails to record attendance even after saying “thank you” i.e. in case of false recording of attendance, and hence in case of attendance dispute arising there from, what proof will the worker have in his possession to claim that he was present?
Fifth, similarly what will happen for driller, dresser, explosive carrier and short firer? As is evident from the design of things appearing through biometric, pressure on them to enhance workload is bound to increase.
Sixth, as is becoming as clear as day light from the above facts, it is ludicrous as to why the management is wasting at all a fortune as big as thousands of lakhs or crores of rupees on installing the biometric system. It has been clarified above that there is no worth, as is being claimed over board by the management, in installing this machine; on the contrary, it is anti-workers, dangerous and one that will fuel unnecessary debate and unrest. Actually the main intention of the ECL managements is to have total control over the life of workers that is simply excessive and unnecessary.
Seventh, one of the arguments given by management is that it will increase production. The motive of installing CCTV inside the mines and offices, too, has to be seen in this light. In reality, the intention of the management is to increase the production by way of excessively pressurising the workers. The truth, however, is that precondition of increasing production is that workers must have a joyful family life. It is vital that the worker gets the necessary 8 hours of leisure, their homes are clean and healthy, they get proper transport and there are such safety measures as are necessary to make the mines safe for the workers. But the management seldom thinks of bringing these qualitative changes in. The management has not been able to even provide clean drinking water to the homes of the workers. Electricity supply is simply pathetic and the workers quarters are such that one cannot even use gas cylinder. The state of cleanliness of their colonies is an open secret. Under such inhuman conditions, how can workers increase production?

While those who have accepted admittedly “inherently fallible” biometric technology based UID/Aadhaar as a fait accompli remains occupied with the differences that arise between the contractor and the individuals whose sensitive information is being collected with regard to the requirements for consent, the length of time biometric information may be stored and protocols for its destruction, those who are convinced about its unscientific nature contend that linking of biometric UID/Aadhaar number to all services including biometric timekeeping is designed to cause civil death.[vii] Civil death is the loss of all or almost all civil rights by a person, caused by the government of a country. Now it is apparent that the denial of rights in the absence of UID/Aadhaar is an act of coercion wherein people are being compelled to share their personal, sensitive biological information; else they will face civil death.

Gopal Krishna 

The author a law and public policy researcher, and editor of www.toxicswatch.org. He had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance which examined the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010  

[i] Krishna, Gopal (2014). Protest Against Biometric Attendance System, https://www.moneylife.in/article/protest-against-biometric-attendance-system/39773.html, 09 December
[ii] Written Testimony before People’s Tribunal on Attack on Educational Institutions in India, 13 April 2018, https://kractivist.org/testimony-of-citizens-forum-for-civil-liberties-cfcl-against-aadhaar-and-cctv-surveillance-in-educational-campuses/
[iii] Osborne, Charlie (2013). U.K. trade union rebels against biometric employee scanning, September 17, https://www.zdnet.com/article/uk-trade-union-rebels-against-biometric-employee-scanning/
[iv] (2015). Australian trade union slams voice biometrics plan, 19 March, https://www.planetbiometrics.com/article-details/i/2832/
[v] M. Gallagher, Claire (2017). Is It OK To Fingerprint Your Employees?, May 3,
[vi] Drake, Anthony (2018). New Zealand: Is it OK to collect biometric data from workers?, 21 March, http://www.mondaq.com/NewZealand/x/684766/employee+rights+labour+relations/Is+it+OK+to+collect+biometric+data+from+workers
[vii] Krishna, Gopal (2017) Will Aadhaar Cause Death of Civil Rights?, March 23, https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/will-aadhaar-cause-death-of-civil-rights/story/248331.html

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