Apple is in the spotlight over labour law and union organising, following allegations that it has blocked employee pay surveys in a way that may violate US worker protections.

The Verge reports that employees have repeatedly launched surveys this spring and summer to anonymously collect pay statistics. The aim of these surveys is to determine if the company's claims of equal pay for equal work hold true, or if there are hidden disparities in the pay awarded to different demographic groups. But Apple's people department, also known as human resources, has repeatedly forced employees to suspend and remove the surveys.

Employment lawyer Vincent White tells The Verge that Apple's actions are "a 2021 version of a foreman on the docks telling people they can't compare their wages way back in the 1800s".

Apple has sent out an email to all employees to clarify the types of surveys that are not allowed, including information that may constitute personal data such as gender and gender identity, ethnicity and home address.

Yet Grace Reckers, an organiser with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, says surveys are protected by US labour laws. The fact that responses are voluntary, she argues, means Apple's personal data justification does not hold water.

In the UK, Apple is required to share data on pay inequality; in 2018, the company paid men 12% more than women, on average. (To be fair to Apple, we should point out that across all companies in the UK, the average pay gap was even worse: 17%.) Apple has frequently talked up its efforts to tackle workplace inequality, but it appears that work still remains: as recently as May, the company was pushed by internal pressure into firing an advertising manager who wrote a book widely denounced for misogyny and racism.

An employee - engineer Cher Scarlett - has now started a new survey using the external tool Typeform (and paying for this herself), in hopes that this will prevent Apple's HR department from blocking it. The survey already has more than 500 responses, according to The Verge.

Scarlett says Apple's resistance to the surveys has made her more determined than ever, not to mention increasingly suspicious about what a successful survey would uncover.

"I don't think anyone is going into this saying there for sure is a wage gap, whether that's gender or race or disability," she says. "But it is concerning to everyone that every single time someone tries to create more transparency, Apple shuts it down. It makes it feel like maybe there is a problem, and they're already aware of it."

Apple has so far declined to comment.

This article originally appeared on Macworld Sweden. Translation (using DeepL) and additional reporting by David Price.