GPS tracking can 'drive employees over edge'
Employers are fitting out their fleets of company cars with invasive GPS tracking systems despite claims the technology unnecessarily invades staff privacy and contributed to a suicide last year.
One such tracker, the GoFinder Reporter, sends employers detailed daily time sheets showing every stop made, parked time, driving time, distance covered, maximum speed and even an estimate of the amount of fuel used. Each location can be displayed on a street map or Google Earth.
Business owners can also log on to a website to view the current position of any of their vehicles at five-minute intervals.
Privacy experts and unions say employers need good justification for snooping so closely on employee movements and even then do not require such highly detailed reports. They question whether employers switch off the tracking outside work hours.
GoFinder founder Graham Thomas said the system saved businesses money by ensuring honest overtime and fuel cost claims. It also prevented moonlighting and vehicle theft.
"If you've got a salesman and you trust them to go out and do a visit then you want to know that the guy is actually doing his work rather than sitting at the SCG watching cricket all day," he said.
Most Australia Post and Linfox vehicles as well as many belonging to small business owners are fitted out with tracking devices.
Australia's RailCorp, which has been dogged by claims of widespread corruption, this year put out a tender - which closed in February - looking for suppliers to install GPS tracking systems in its vehicles.
Last year, Australian telco Telstra was slammed by Victoria's Workplace Rights Advocate and threatened with prosecution after it installed GPS tracking systems in 7000 of its technicians' cars without consent.
The telco was also accused by the communications union of pressuring staff into consenting to the installation of the tracking devices by making it a condition of employment.
To date, no charges have been laid. Telstra argued the trackers would enhance safety and that it should be allowed to set the terms and conditions upon which it provides vehicles to staff.
In March last year, Leon Dousset, a Telstra technician for 32 years, committed suicide. Friends and family told Four Corners this was due to Telstra's stringent performance targets and the installation of the GPS trackers.
Colleague John Hitchiner, a former Telstra linesman, told the program Dousset had said he felt the GPS devices were "demeaning" to staff and showed a "lack of trust on the part of the company".
Four Corners also published a letter from Dousset's doctor which read: "I have been looking after Leon who had been suffering depression related to stresses at work. He never mentioned any problems at home but did tell me he was upset at finally being forced to have a GPS in his work vehicle to track his movements. Unfortunately he committed suicide as a result of his severe depression."
Telstra said it was not aware of Dousset's condition.
Thomas called the claims "a load of bullocks". He said employees generally welcomed tracking because it proved whether their bosses were forcing them to work outside specified hours.
Anna Johnston, director of the consultancy firm Salinger Privacy, said the NSW Workplace Surveillance Act required employers give staff 14 days' prior written notice in addition to placing a notice on the vehicle indicating that it was the subject of tracking surveillance.
The law also prohibited the monitoring of employees when they were not at work.
"So in theory employers are supposed to turn off the location-tracking devices when their employees are not 'at work', but they won't always know when that is, which makes it highly likely that NSW employers will be in breach of the act," she said.
"A breach by an employer of the Workplace Surveillance Act is actually a criminal offence, which can be prosecuted by the police or the relevant union."
Thomas said his device could be programmed not to collect data outside work hours but this was not the default setting.
The owner of a Sydney tree removal company, who did not wish to be named because he does not tell staff they are being monitored, said the device allowed him to assign jobs to his five workers spontaneously throughout the day.
It also ensured none of them accepted extra work on the side for cash without telling him. He did not believe he was being unethical or breaking the law.
"I'm not BHP. I'm a small company doing it tough at the moment with the prices of wages and fuel going up," he said.
A spokesman for the Australian Transport Workers Union said the technology should not be used to hang the driver at the bottom of the chain out to dry. Instead it should help trigger "real chain of responsibility and accountability among the powerful clients who control the industry and push drivers to the limits".
Roger Clarke, chairman of the Australian Privacy Foundation, said surveillance and privacy laws stated employers must have adequate justification for intruding on the privacy for their staff. And, even then, the level of detail provided by GoFinder's reports was unnecessary in normal work contexts.
"A missing car can be located without having it self-report continually or even regularly - it just needs to respond when asked," he said.
"Vehicle over-use can be controlled through periodic checks of mileage against travel plans and travel reports."
The owner of a Sydney car rental dealership, who also wished to remain anonymous, said he installed the tracking devices mainly because he charges by the kilometre and some customers abused this by disconnecting the speedometer.
"Sometimes you get an undesirable that rents your car for a day and decides that he wants to keep it without paying for it, so we can track it and go around and knock it off," he said.
Sydney Morning Herald