Why Shell's electronic trackers aren’t a big deal

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In a move that some critics have called an “invasion of privacy”, Shell oilsands employees will soon be carrying electronic trackers as they go about their work – but one advocate says everyone will benefit from the initiative.

“I can completely understand and respect how an individual who would go to their workplace every day for a decade, and all of a sudden be handed a chip, would completely think it was a privacy invasion,” said Wayne Garner, the vice president of General Teamsters Local Union No. 362.

“But I think it’s something that the general public probably needs to realize — it’s here, it’s not going anywhere,” he continued.

The trackers, which rely on radio frequency ID, let employers plot worker location and movement, assess operational efficiency, monitor worker fatigue, and improve overall safety.

Shell insists the data will not be used to judge an individual’s progress, simply to identify any recurrent problems.

Our focus in this pilot is to use the data to help us better understand the barriers that are getting in the way,” the company said in a statement.

“By understanding the roadblocks, we can take action to eliminate them as close to real-time as possible. In a nutshell, we are trying to improve how we run our business to help empower our employees to work more effectively and efficiently.”

Union rep Garner also said the introduction shouldn’t really come as a shock to employees – electronic monitoring might sound invasive but it’s actually nothing new.

“If we look at industries outside the oilsands, if we look at just simple courier companies, they have been monitored for years now and it evolves every year, it gets more and more in depth.”

Garner also pointed out that many industrial vehicles in the oilsands have long been equipped with tracking systems and many workers already carry small tracking devices in their wallets to improve their safety.

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