The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the need for improved employee representation – New forms of employment and challenges for the European trade unions

A seminar about “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the need for improved employee representation – New forms of employment and challenges for the European trade unions” took place from 15 to 17 May 2019 in Limassol / Cyprus, organized by KIKEA-DEOK (Cypriot Institute of Training/Education and Employment (KIKEA) - DEOK), with the support of EZA and of the European Union. The seminar was part of the EZA project co-ordination about “Future of work – changing labour relations”. It was attended by representatives of workers’ organizations from Cyprus, Spain, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania, Portugal, Estonia, France and Germany.

It offered an excellent opportunity to trade union leaders and other workers’ organizations and stakeholders, to listen and discuss keynote speeches delivered by experts on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and on the new forms of employment emerged in the scope of this Industrial Revolution. National situations, trends in different EU member states, were subject for analysis and for an exchange of views. The participants in the project shared presentations and observations of good practices for training on national, regional and EU level. The seminar introduced the need and critical role of social dialogue for new forms of employment, in the pursuit of new skills and abilities aiming to improve employee representation. Finally, the seminar focused on effective social dialogue means and objectives by discussing best practices, and failures, in terms of trade union initiative and action plans applied in the different countries so far.

There is a critical challenge demanding action and intensive social dialogue initiatives both on national and European level. The seminar’s overall purpose was to enhance the understanding of the role of social partners and reinforce their capabilities and responsibility to offer an improved employee representation facing the new challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It was also designed to give a chance to trade union leaders, and other state and private stakeholders, to discuss, analyse and react on common challenges faced by trade unions regarding the new forms of employment in this new environment. Trade unions should be involved in the launch of national initiatives involving the social, employment and work-related facets of digitization and all major stakeholders.

The following issues were discussed in particular:

  • Policies and Strategic Planning on behalf of the Government
  • Future of Work: Today. Tomorrow. For ALL – European Commission
  • Artificial Intelligence: Threat or opportunity
  • Threats and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution in the member states.
  • How the 4th Industrial Revolution is impacting the future of work and how the qualifications and skills can be adjusted to the new environment
  • The situation in the Cypriot labour market
  • How education systems can be prepared for future changes – Challenges and perspectives


Automation will create many new jobs. We cannot remain invisible spectators to these developments. We must make the most of this change, which will bring about both positive and negative consequences. Positive consequences include the improvement of competitiveness and the development of entrepreneurship and innovation. Food technology and space technology will help us fight against incurable diseases. The new situation will lead to better living conditions. On the other hand, taking into consideration the negative effects of automation, we must safeguard jobs, introduce legislative provisions and establish supervisory authorities to prevent the abuse of technology as well as new policies to ensure the social character of the state. The role of all social partners in this is important.

The world of labour is changing. Unemployment in Cyprus has fallen to 6.5%. New jobs will be created but many will also be lost. The new forms of employment will employ digital tools. The digital changes must be addressed through management policies in order to avoid unemployment. The European law on accessibility will help persons with disabilities become more active.

There is no one single definition for Artificial Intelligence. It is the discipline that tries to create machines that will adjust to the environment and to human behaviours. But we cannot suggest that everything is perfect. GOOGLE translate, for example, does not offer accurate translations. Data must be analysed through the use of special techniques. What is now available could be resembled to the brain of a rat. The next step is the human brain. A lot more work needs to be done and one of the problems is cost.

Positive aspects and opportunities: Smart world, positive impact on health, transport, smart cities.

Many jobs will be affected by 2020. Office jobs will be abolished and stock exchange services and computers will be further developed. 

The European Union is working on the approach to artificial intelligence, but all member states must give this issue due consideration. There will be socioeconomic changes. Training is essential for businesses and talent must be retained within the European Union. The EU is working on the guidelines for the application of products.

There is no artificial intelligence but non-intelligence and we should not think that technology will equal human achievement. There is progress and the use of machines serves people, but this does not mean that we should follow a path of great complexities. The smart robot will have higher potential. 

But a machine, a robot cannot have feelings and sensitivity. The systems are fragile. The machines will make mistakes and in fact serious mistakes with a cost in terms of human lives.

Employees are entering unchartered waters. There will be massive losses of jobs and the situation is complicated. Work must be assessed and the cooperation between social partners aims to ensure the proper use of new technologies. 

In the Czech Republic, the plan for the 4th industrial revolution will bring about opportunities. The population must respect developments in the field of digitalisation. The aim of the State is to apply and develop it further.  

In Romania there is informal employment. Forty-four percent of employees work in part-time employment. This is less than 7% of the overall population. There are restrictions in trade unionism. Collective bargaining is limited. Out of the 29 sectors of activity, only one is governed by a collective agreement. Education can follow developments in society and society can enter the 4th industrial revolution.

Estonia is already welcoming the 4th industrial revolution. Workers’ rights and benefits have deteriorated to what they were a few decades ago. It is possible that the revolution may aggravate the situation.

In Germany everybody talks about the 4th industrial revolution. It is the seventh country in digital knowledge and online shopping is very popular. One in two companies uses applications of the 4th industrial revolution. Many employees work from home. Employees take a lot of sick leave and there is burnout. In Germany employees are paid on a project basis and not per hour of work.

In Bulgaria, the 4th industrial revolution will have many negative aspects. The Parliament and the Government are working on legislation for e-governance. A national strategy has been prepared in light of the 4th industrial revolution, which pertains to the adoption of the trends on the supply and demand for jobs. The organisation and structure of work are expected to vary significantly. Companies must offer incentives to employees.  

In Portugal, young people spend long hours on the internet. The disadvantages of using the mobile phone include addiction and young people are not protected. Video games promote violence and cause problems, also within the family. Young people cannot communicate between them. People feel stressed, nervous and fearful. The fact that children spend many hours in their room is a warning signal. They gradually become isolated.

There can be no employees without enterprises. Technology is advancing and there are opportunities for progress and a better standard of living. There are substantial shortages in economic areas. The State must provide incentives and opportunities to young people, but also existing employees, to develop. Robotics is changing the situation on the labour market and through dialogue we must find the solutions that will help employees become indispensable in what they do and protect those that will enter the labour market.  

Cyprus is following technological developments. The Government has recently decided to include the digital transformation of the economy in its planning. In this context, the establishment of a deputy Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digital Transformation is being promoted. Digital economy is the first area which is rapidly developing.  

Business activities are being developed through hubs. The Cyprus economy could possibly plan sectors such as culture, tourism and health together in a digital ecosystem, allowing the country to produce such types of services around this concept.

The future of work

Digitalisation will increase demand for skilled employees and decrease demand for unskilled workforce. Salaries and employability will vary between skilled and unskilled workforce. People will be less attached to a specific enterprise in a specific country. Informal forms of employment are usually characterised by working time that is not in line with standards and specific employment contracts. These new forms of employment are very popular in the services sector. Trade unions must be prepared for the changes and the impact and ensure the interests of employees at an early stage, through a proper interpretation of these changes.