Telematics policy—controlling the ‘spy in the cab’

On Tuesday 23 May, the telematics policy will go to the Policy and Sustainability Committee for approval by the councillors. The Joint Trade Unions of Edinburgh Council (Unite, Unison and GMB) have been negotiating on this policy since June 2022.

The unions have not agreed the policy as a collective agreement.

Through open and meaningful negotiation, we have come a long way in improving the policy to protect the workforce against misuse of this powerful surveillance tool.

Here is a summary of the matters discussed and the improvements made.

Read the telematics policy going for approval.

What is telematics?

Telematics refers to technology that monitors how you are driving:

  • how hard you are braking or accelerating
  • fuel consumption
  • speed
  • time spent idling
  • vehicle location.

Telematics is already fitted to some of the Council’s fleet, but the plan is to roll it out to all vehicles. Some vehicles, such as those in Waste and Cleansing, are also fitted with location trackers (RouteSmart).

The benefits of telematics are the ability to

  • improve driving performance
  • improve fuel consumption
  • optimise routes
  • answer complaints and claims about Council drivers.

Having telematics installed also means cheaper insurance and the ability to make greener journeys.

The drawbacks are

  • increased surveillance of the workforce
  • potential misuse of the system to target individuals.

The policy

The policy went to the Policy and Sustainability Committee in January but councillors put it back in the hands of officer to iron out the details. Many councillors shared the concerns of the trade unions over the potential for abuse and the implications of what culture it creates with a ‘watched workforce’.

Comments on the policy, including Unite’s stance that the Council needs a digital surveillance policy and the recognition of Operational Services Service Director Gareth Barwell that the problems getting such a policy through “speaks to culture we maybe need to improve and managing relations we need to improve in those teams” were published in Edinburgh Live.

The policy was on the agenda for the Policy and Sustainbility Committee on 17 March. but again this was continued due to Unite’s intervention to ensure further improvements could be made.


The main matters for discussion has been live location tracking and protecting against misuse of the system to target or bully individuals. The unions have been agreed over two mechanisms to protect against these concerns:

  • control those that can access the system directly—only Fleet Management
  • don’t allow telematics data to be used in disciplinary cases.

We have negotiated a policy that provides assurance over both of these points, especially the first one.

Access to the system

Who has access?

At the start, there were over 130 licence holders for the telematics system, with many frontline managers having access.

Now, there are fewer than 30 licence holders.

Live location data can only be accessed by Fleet Services and

  • approved officers in Passenger Services and Winter Weather Emergency Team
  • dedicated approved officers—not supervisors and managers—in Waste and Cleansing.

No one in Housing Property will have access to the telematics system.

What does this mean?

With access locked down to certain individuals, the Council can monitor requests for telematics data to make sure these are genuine and not attempts to ‘hunt’ for issues to target workers. Requests should only be granted when the reason is genuine.

The policy sets out that misuse of telematics data will be seen as gross misconduct. If you suspect telematics data is being misused, raise this as a grievance with a relevant manager or whistleblowing complaint with .

These measures significantly reduce the ability for the system to be misused and create a papertrail to monitor requests to catch any attempts at misuse. These would not be in place without the trade unions.

Use of telematics data in disciplinary cases

The unions asked that telematics data could not be used in disciplinary cases. This was to provide ironclad assurance to the workforce, which would help the Council introduce telematics to the whole fleet so they could get the benefits of telematics without creating suspicion in the workforce due to the added surveillance. This has not been granted.

However, control over access limits the ability for misuse of the system. There are extra steps in place if telematics data is to be used in a disciplinary case. If managers are trying to use telematics data to target workers, this is likely to be uncovered and the policy states that this would be considered gross misconduct. While, not ironclad, these are measures do help. They would not be in place without the trade unions.

Next steps

All drivers must be aware of the policy.

Any concerns over misuse of telematics should be raised as grievances or whistleblowing complaints.

We will continue discussions on the introduction of telematics with management and will monitor the number and nature of requests for telematics data.

The discussion shone a light on the use of technology for worker surveillance. There is no overarching policy on digital surveillance, and some of the concerns about telematics will be the same as for other systems, such as those that track the location of a worker.

A digital surveillance policy, covering any system, would be the best way to ensure these systems are used fairly and appropriately, so Unite will continue to advocate for this.

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