Workers' organisations 4.0: workers searching for greater human dignity in the new era

A seminar about “Workers' organisations 4.0: workers searching for greater human dignity in the new era” took place from 5 to 6 October 2018 in Čatež ob Savi, Slovenia, organized by ZD NSi (Združenje delavcev Nove Slovenije) with the support of EZA and the European Union. The seminar was part of the EZA project co-ordination about “New working relationships: digitalization and trade union strategies”.

The main purpose of the seminar was to identify the role of representatives of workers and workers' organizations in the context of the new conditions on the labour market which was marked by the fourth industrial revolution.

The content of seminar was a continuation of the previous one, which was organized by the same partners in January 2018 under a title Worker 4.0.  On this previous seminar we focused primarily on the effects of the fourth industrial revolution on the worker as an individual. This time the focus was on workers’ organizations as they represent workers that are included in them.

The fourth industrial revolution is bringing to the world of work both sides of the coin – opportunities and risks. Often the same opportunities and risks are represented by the same factors. Flexible working time, for example, can be both an opportunity and a risk. Among the risks the seminar exposed the psychosocial consequences of the usage of electronic devices for official purposes after the end of the formal workday. For example, by browsing through e-mails in the evening the worker's workload can be extensively prolonged without control.

After the 4th industrial revolution the worker is becoming the most important capital of the company. Generations entering the labour market are much less numerous than those leaving the labour market, often by up to 50 %. In many occupations the focus is no longer on the fight for jobs amongst workers but on the struggle between companies to find workers. It should be pointed out that this paradigm only applies to highly qualified personnel.

When it comes to qualifications, formal education is constantly losing its importance. The education system often does not produce personnel that the labour market needs. Rapid technological development makes it even more difficult for educators since in certain professions the content of knowledge changes every few years. Also the employers are increasingly paying attention to actual skills and not to the level of formal education. Due to robotization and automation the turn into high-value-added jobs is necessary, which can only be achieved through lifelong learning. Nevertheless today as many as 37 % of workers in the EU do not have sufficient e-skills to successfully perform their vocation.

If the lack of lifelong learning is the weakness for older workers, the young (the millennials) face particular challenges when entering the labour market. The following issues were highlighted at the seminar:

• Discrepancy between competences acquired during the process of formal education and those that employers are looking for,

• A large proportion of young people did not grow up forced by environment to make important decisions and as a consequence now they face a noticeable lack of the competence of self-management;

• growing in comfort is associated with young people nowadays having more demands when facing their employers;

• Their addiction to social networks and the constant need to be in contact with mobile devices;

• Deficit in taking responsibility and relevant work experience.

Workers' organizations are trying to involve in their structure different generations of workers with increasingly noticeable difference of needs. It is also different to consider the goals for involvement of individual persons in workers' organizations. The interests of workers are very diverse, as the circumstances in which they work (increasingly smaller collectives) are increasingly diverse. In the past it was much easier to lead and represent homogeneous groups of workers in a particular factory.

Members of workers' organizations are increasingly assuming the role of clients and the organization itself plays the role of service provider. It is necessary to think which services are really important for individual target groups of workers. However, the importance of informal relations was also expressed as they can build communities in the long run and help to discover the social capital that individual members bring to the table and which could be invested in organizations.

The advocacy themes that we recognize as important for shaping the agenda of workers' organizations today are the following:

  • Minimum working conditions at national and European levels,
  • New forms of work (online platforms, project integration, crowdfunding ...) and rights and contracts related to them,
  • The fight against inequality that digitalisation could deepen (due to qualifications, generational differences ...),
  • Commitment to lifelong learning due to rapid technological development,
  • Safety at work: participate in risk assessments at company level, stress measuring ...
  • Data protection: what information about workers companies could collect and what can happen to them (fingerprints, eye scanning, electronic bracelet control ...),
  • Development of the legislation that would enhance the co-decision of workers,
  • Connecting workers and workers' organizations to global networks.

More and more workers for generations to come perceive and measure a quality jobs as a key factor. Furthermore, in addition to salary, many other factors are mentioned: opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge, health and safety concerns, flexibility of the working time, flexibility of job and its security, and the possibility of co-decision and co-management. Workers' organizations have the opportunity to continue to explore and support all those parameters.