The Future of Work in a Digital Europe

From June 27 to 30, 2019, a seminar on "The Future of Work in a Digital Europe" was held in Munich, organized by the KAB Deutschlands (Catholic Workers Movement of Germany), with the support of EZA and the European Union.

At this European seminar, the developments were analyzed and evaluated. Representatives of workers' organizations from Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands have developed criteria for a future working environment in which they want to orient their projects, campaigns and campaigns in the next few years. The design of decent work was the overall goal.

For years, a process of the digital transformation of the economy, work and society have taken place worldwide. The concept of the so-called Industry 4.0 sees the EU Commission as an opportunity. On the one hand, high-quality products are to be produced in the location competition in the EU member states. On the other hand, the production of environmentally friendly and sustainable products should be promoted. National initiatives dealing with digitization will be supported and networked. For example, there are activities at the EU level to build a digital European single market. The EU sees itself as a future location for a digitized industry. Industry 4.0 indicates the transition to a new era of industrial development. At the same time, the EU Commission is responding with its initiative for the creation of a "European Pillar of Social Rights" with fundamental commitments to changes in the world of work that bring the developments mentioned above.

In addition to the effects of digitization on changes in the world of work, further structural crises were discussed in the seminar. Because globalization creates crises, which in turn pose multiple challenges for business and society as well as employee organizations. On the one hand, there is the ecological crisis (keyword: climate change). Furthermore, the democracy crisis (keywords: political disenchantment, populism, lobbying) and a psychological crisis (keywords: burnout, alienation, search for meaning) should be considered. At the same time, one must speak of a social and economic crisis (keywords: distributional conflicts, loss of common goods, existential fears, competitive pressure, mass migration, unleashed neoliberalism). Pope Francis speaks of a complex socio-ecological crisis in the context of crisis diagnoses. Therefore, the Pope proposes: "The paths of resolution require a holistic approach to fight poverty, to return the dignity to the excluded and at the same time to take care of nature." This requires the ability to remain able to act even under challenging situations respond creatively and flexibly to this challenge. (Resilience).

As possible resilient solutions, the seminar included examples of grassroots initiatives such as the forms of work at Transition Town Friesach in Austria and the cooperative Amos eG in Germany discussed. For this purpose, two alternative approaches were presented and discussed concerning future issues of labour society: on the one hand, the post-growth path and, on the other hand, the shared good economy. Dr Bernhard Leubolt of the Catholic Social Academy of Austria in Vienna discussed how prosperity without growth can still function well or even better. Growth has ceased to be part of the solution to environmental and social problems but has become part of the problem. He argued that high economic growth rates were neither possible nor desirable in developed economies. Representatives of the post-growth economy advocate a departure from a meaningless, resource-devastating life with a double profit: through less consumption and less paid work, the quality of life and wellbeing should increase and at the same time the negative environmental effects be cushioned. In its criticism, the degrowth idea is directed against neoliberal theory and practice and against concepts of sustainable development. Any form of additional economic growth, be it green or sustainable, legitimizes the continuation of the status quo and distracts from the contradiction that economic growth and ecological modernization are incompatible. Representatives of the post-growth economy plead for a departure from the conventional model of prosperity, because modern consumer societies live beyond their means and the prosperity created by growth is only possible through ecological plunder, according to Leubolt.

Jörn Wiedemann of the Terra Institutes described the common good economy with central elements of an alternative corporate and economic system based on values such as trust, responsibility, compassion, sharing and solidarity. A binding legal framework should ensure that entrepreneurial activity is no longer primarily geared to competition and profit. The model is based on two core elements: the public interest balance sheet and 20 key content values. Behind the typical good balance sheet of a company hides the idea to measure the entrepreneurial success no longer only on the monetary gain, but as the progress of a company in the direction of the welfare economy. The cornerstones of the shared good economy are regarded as an open and participatory development process, according to Wiedemann. Innovative proposals include, for example, that the common good replace gross domestic product as a success indicator, the establishment of directly elected regional economic parliaments, the initiation of a fair trade zone and the creation of democratic banks. Finally, it is envisaged that all 20 cornerstones will mature in a broad participatory process and lead to legislative initiatives.


At the seminar, it was pointed out that digitization would fundamentally change the structures and conditions of the working world. In the future world of work, the relationship between man and machine will vary. Until now, a job was shaped by the factors: work had its place, work had its time and work had its constitution. On this basis, workers' rights were enshrined in collective agreements, company agreements and laws. Forecasts will change the demands of work, the understanding of work, the organization of work and the organization of the company. The work will be even less tied to time and place in the future. The old separation of work and leisure tends to be lifted. The boundary between work and private life blurs. This results in challenges that are addressed to the collective bargaining partners or to the trade unions and employers' associations, including at the European level, in order to provide this "new" flexibility with rules. At the same time, European policy is required to intervene creatively, e.g. on the issue of 24/7 availability of workers. The EU Commission must submit proposals so that this availability can be limited in time.

The digitization of the working world creates a new "work culture" that opens up to the diversity of life situations and lifestyles. Thus, the work society is in the process of transformation. In a future working society, different dimensions of human work could come into play and become more important. The transition from a working society to a so-called activity society, in which different dimensions of human work play a role, is gaining in importance under the conditions of digital transformation and the digitality of European societies. This increase in the meaning of the different forms of work must be given more consideration in European politics, according to a result of the seminar discussion.

Furthermore, the problem contexts discussed in the seminar, which as well as reshaping the working society are two sides of the same coin, so a further conclusion of the workshop.

Perpetual economic growth is reaching its planetary limits. This fact has been scientifically proven for at least 70 years but has hardly led to social and political consequences. In this respect, e.g. international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, are linked to the necessary transformation of industrial society. Approaches developed in the field of post-growth economics must be absorbed by European politics, so another conclusion.

As regards the general interest balance of enterprises, timely approaches are to be identified in the accounting rules at EU level, which need to be further developed. Similarly, the importance of solidarity-based forms of enterprise, such as cooperatives, has been dealt with in the past by the European Parliament. Here, too, "stronger" initiatives must be taken in the future, according to the seminar participants.

Finally, the seminar focused on the content of the "European Pillar of Social Rights". The participants summarized that the principles formulated in the three chapters (Equal Opportunities and Access to the Labour Market, Fair Employment Conditions, Social Protection and Social Inclusion) show little social progress and provide little answers to the questions raised in the seminar. The above principles were evaluated by the seminar participants as a codification of the status quo, which can be found in most EU countries.