Unite union fined for abusing data rights of members

solar callUnite the Union, the UK’s second largest trade union which fights for the rights of more than 1.4 million workers, has been battered for breaching the data rights of thousands of its members by making nearly 60,000 unsolicited calls to flog life insurance.

The union is the latest organisation to fall foul of Regulation 21 of the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) following an Information Commissioner’s Office investigation, sparked by 27 complaints from Unite members who are registered with the Telephone Preference Service.

In response to the complaints, the ICO sent an initial investigation letter to Unite and requested for evidence of consent to receive marketing calls. However, Unite flatly denied it had made unsolicited marketing calls but that it was simply updating members on services and benefits available to them under their union membership.

But although the ICO found individuals were told how to opt-out, they were not provided with the option to opt-in to specific means of communication for specific types of services or benefits, especially those being provided by third parties.

In its ruling, published on the ICO website, the regulator found that Unite had contravened Regulation 21 of PECR by making 57,665 unsolicited calls for direct marketing purposes to TPS subscribers.

In addition, the ICO found that the consent relied upon by Unite was insufficient as it provided broad information to data subjects, rather than the specific detail required under the regulation.

And, despite considering that Unite had not deliberately set out to contravene PECR, the ICO notice states that the union was negligent and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the contravention. It fined the organisation £45,000.

In terms of mitigating factors, the ICO noted the remedial action taken by Unite as soon as the contravention was highlighted and that changes were made to its data processor screening process to ensure future compliance.

However, the ICO decided that Unite has access to sufficient funds to pay the proposed penalty without causing undue financial hardship and that this is not affected by the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Unite, whose membership spans construction, manufacturing, transport, and logistics, has yet to comment on its unlawful activity which occurred under the leadership of former general secretary Len McCluskey. He was succeeded by executive officer Sharon Graham in August this year.

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