From the 26th to the 28th of September 2018 a seminar on "The digital world of work and the resultant demands on "digital" trade unions and workers' organisations" organized by NBH (Nell Breuning House) took place in Medulin, Croatia, with support EZA and the European Union. The seminar was part of the EZA project on "New Industrial Relations: Digitization and Trade Union Strategies".
Participants and three main speakers from Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, Austria, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany gathered concepts and information to develop recommendations for action on social dialogue. Above all, there was a lot of time for dialogue among all participants.
Under the current circumstances this seminar is of great importance.
In September 2017, the EU Summit focused mainly on the infrastructure of a so-called 'Digital Europe', and a charter entitled 'Social Dialogue in Europe' was presented.
Both documents are of great importance for the digitizing society and the world of work because the so-called Industry 4.0 has long arrived in the economy.
Jobs will change and are no longer tied to one place. Intelligent technology will dominate and define production and service, and perhaps even humans.
If the unions and other workers' organizations want to continue to represent the interests of working people sufficiently, they must digitize their own organizational structures, look for new ways of communicating and modernize their image without denying their values. You have to 'reinvent yourself'
In her report, Jelena Soms (LDF - Lithuanian Labour Federation) co-ordinates the status quo of the EZA project New Industrial Relations: Digitization and Trade Union Strategies.
The most important aspects, topics and insights are
that digitization is already well advanced in many sectors. Automotive and pharmaceutical industry, medicine, green economy are some examples. Digital remote diagnostics and therapeutic measures are components of the medical profession. Care robots increasingly care for people in clinics and nursing homes. Fully automatic car production without people is almost a reality. Algorithms dominate the scene.
At the same time, increasingly a-typical forms of work are establishing themselves. Teleworking and project workplaces as well as hourly services with constant availability. Work-life balance is threatened; Digital surveillance is increasing. There is a gradual de-regulation of the labour market. According to conservative estimates, about 10 percent of all jobs in Europe are destroyed. Also, highly qualified jobs. And not created anymore. By contrast, productivity and entrepreneurial profits will increase.
Collective bargaining rights, health and safety and employment law are not applicable to these a-typical employment relationships.
To keep pace with development, unions need to be more flexible in themselves. You must 'reinvent' so to speak, towards a union 4.0. They are on the way - even to their own digitization; They see the opportunities of this new development. At the same time, thinking in the working worlds, structures and social conditions of the 19th century often prevents rapid adaptation to the new economic and non-professional living conditions of the 21st century.
In his introductory speech, Andreas Gajica, Secretary General of the Christian Union of Trade Unions (FCG in the Austrian Trade Union Confederation ÖGB) presented the 12 theses on digitization and their effects on work in trade unions and employee organizations.
The most important aspects, topics and findings are:
1. The world of work is currently undergoing radical change. 2. Digitization generates a similarly dramatic change as the 'first industrial revolution'. 3. Data is the raw material of the 21st century. 4. The digital revolution is already taking place. 5. Digitization creates a new 'view of the world'. It will be even more crucial to investigate the value chain. 6. The Internet must not become a dimension of our life and work, where neither law nor legislation apply. 7. Youth should not become the 'forgotten loser' of digitization. 8. Workers' organizations must leave the work society's creed of thought and be open to new ways of thinking. 9. Work must be distributed more equitably. 10. Man is not a 24/7 entity. Therefore, the concept of 'good work' is becoming increasingly important. 11. Digitization allows for comprehensive control. It therefore also needs comprehensive safeguards. 12. Bridging the future needs a sustainable foundation in the present.
It is therefore necessary that the unions renew themselves and prepare their employees for this new world through education, training and further education. It is very likely that there will be entirely new departments within the unions specializing in the new forms of work. There must be union-owned, digital tools and workflows, perhaps so-called 'union algorithms' that help anchor the concept of 'good work'.
In his specialised field, Rd. Erik Meyer, presented the Digital World - Possible Approaches to Modern Trade Union Work. Unfortunately, in an age of global market liberalism, industry and politics are not separate sectors, but are moving in the same direction. The unions are very often fixated on the industry alone. The service sector is increasingly growing, in which many solo self-employed work exclusively for projects and project-related - usually precarious - to be paid.
As an example from the world of work, the so-called platform economy is the focus of the considerations. Google, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon are some great examples of these new businesses. But there are also other platforms that are built primarily as crowdforms. For example, Addjobber, MyLittleJob, Jovoto. Microjobs or microtasking can be offered and accepted here for design work, graphic projects, word problems, IT programming. Low pay, time pressure and lack of social security are the hallmarks of these platforms. Of course, all work results are digitally processed and processed.
The most important aspects, topics and findings are:
The unions are currently seeking their role in the diverse employment relationships between deregulated crowdworking and the disruptive start-up scene.
In the future, digitization will be of central importance for any type of communication.
Trade unions need to establish contact with the world of work through comprehensive online platforms in order to use new formats to organize the interests, above all, of precarious workers and solo self-employed.
For example, digital consumer platforms could report on working conditions at Amazon - if they share the same values as the unions. They could also organize buyer strikes - if collective agreements are not respected.
In the future, there will be a so-called algorithmic public sphere as the arena of digital labour disputes.
There must be easy-to-use online platforms that serve as the key to lowering bureaucratic hurdles in the self-organization of solo self-employed and crowdworkers.
This also means that unions need to build new organizational forms.
Three working groups develop strategies and recommendations for action, evaluations for the works council, trade union, interest groups and politics.
Legal regulations for digitization must be developed in this field. Trade union demands can only be enforced in order to improve and represent the interests of employees in the expected platform economy with their solo self-employed and home-workers. Together with companies, new vocational qualifications could then be agreed. Trade unions need to redefine their understanding of roles in Industry 4.0. That Connecting people, living solidarity, promoting so-called 'lifelong learning', explaining digitization within the union; recruit trade union digitization professionals, train staff, interest young people in union work, develop and use their own digital tools such as union apps or union algorithms, provide digital services, and remember traditional trade union responsibilities.
The new, digital jobs must now also be defined and described internationally (ILO). The definitions should be valid in every EU Member State. Solo self-employed from the platform economy should in principle be represented by trade unions. Minimum standards should be discussed and defined at European and national level. Trade unions must have a modern image and open to the so-called 'Instagram generation', digitize themselves, and union members should also be viewed individually as customers in order to be able to offer tailor-made solutions to problems. Trade union services should be offered. Online platforms should be used to publicize grievances in the workplace
Trade unions need to get better publicity. In-house academies should be established in which the employees are prepared by experienced employees for Industry 4.0. Internal and external training and education should be encouraged. The Gothenburg EU script 'Social Dialogue in Europe' should become a Europe-wide regulation.
For the organizers of this seminar, the realization has matured that the digitization of the working world and society offers a great opportunity to modernize trade union work and to revise the question of trade union solidarity. Many digital tools are available, new ones can be developed. The participants in this seminar are aware of the opportunities. They strive to "re-invent" the unions to a certain extent - without giving up the core tasks. However, it has also become clear that the digital developments in the world of work in the individual EU member states are very different and the trade unions strive for intensive networking with each other in order to exchange their own digitalisation ideas and to include them in their daily work.