Digital work: between the desire for self-determination and the need for statutory provisions and labour law regulations

From 17 to 19 October 2019, a seminar was held in Oostend, Belgium on the subject: „Digital work: between the desire for self-determination and the need for statutory provisions and labour law regulations”, carried out by the Christian Workers Movement of Europe (MTCE / EBCA / ECWM) in cooperation with the European Centre for Workers' Affairs (EZA) in Königswinter and with the financial support of the European Union.

Some 37 representatives of workers' Trade Organizations from Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, England, Italy, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Lithuania participated in the seminar, as well as representatives who were invited from Switzerland and Brazil.

The main theme of the seminar was the phenomenon of digitilisation and its impact on the lives of workers. In accordance with the see-judge-act methodology, speakers first intervened, providing participants with views of the digital world from different points of view. Luc Cortebeeck (International Labor Organization - ILO) shared the history of the ILO, its objectives and priorities and in this sense presented the steps to be followed and the challenges for the ILO in this digital future. Entrepreneur Michael Hellweger (Sud Tyrol) reported on a computer company mentioning specific dangers and opportunities for the economy and presented models of regulation of working time - how the company solves the specific situation in relation to its employees. Pierre-Marie Molinier from Trade Union CGT France captured the perspective of a worker at a Bosch plant in the south of France and contributed concrete experiences with changes at work. In the judging phase, the adviser on social and economic affairs of the Commission of the Conferences of Bishops of the European Union (COMECE) Markus Vennewald intervened to present the perspective of COMECE on the future of work and develop the recent document "Shaping the future of work". The last paper, delivered by KVW Sud Tyrol and MTCE Coordination Group member Karl H. Brunner, reflected on the misunderstood work ethic by highlighting the need to overcome narrow vision and prepare for possible future models. Among other points, he emphasised sanctifying Sunday as a holiday and day of rest. The work of the project group within EZA was presented by Jelena Soms (EZA, Lithuania) who at the same time summarized the positive and negative aspects of digitilisation. After each presentation there was time for questions and comments.

All the papers have laid the foundations for the work in three groups (the act phase). In each of the three group sessions: questions were posed to which the participants sought answers and tried to define objectives of the work of the MTCE and of the affiliated movements in the future within the phenomenon of digitilisation. A part of the program were visits to two social projects: FMDO (Federation of people of migratory origin) working with groups of migrants in Belgium, and Fietsbib (Bicycle Library), a network that offers bicycle loans for children up to 12 years old, both volunteer supported initiatives.


Results of the seminar

The result of discussions and group work is a final declaration that will be distributed in four languages: English, German, Spanish and French. All participants will receive it with the instruction to spread the document in their presentations and their countries. It will also be a training tool and a starting point for initiatives and activities of the MTCE and the affiliated movements for the future.

Among the most important points that have been repeatedly mentioned during the seminar it that it is important highlighting that each individual must continue to be respected as a person despite the fact that technological evolution is faster than the evolution of human thought and the political processes that can channel these changes. The need to use digital media moderately and with some self-criticism has been highlighted. Of great importance is the impact of digital technologies on the lives of families and on the reconciliation of work and family life. The fact that technological advance cannot occur at all costs and that it is necessary to take into account all ecological issues has been highlighted. Furthermore, emphasis has been placed on the fact that work must be stable and guarantee the workers a decent life.