Digitalisation and the quality of public services

A seminar about “Digitalisation and the quality of public services” was organized in Vienna / Austria from 22 to 24 September 2021 by EUROFEDOP (Europese Federatie van het Overheidspersoneel) with the support of EZA and of the European Union.

The seminar was physically attended by representatives of 16 workers’ organisations from EU member countries, EU candidate countries and as guests from Switzerland and Ukraine. Together they tried to find solutions to questions such as: what has to be the strategy of trade unions in the transition phase towards the far-reaching digitalisation of society, in particular regarding the effects of digitalisation on public services, the citizens and the staff of public services.

A common thread through the sessions was the corona pandemic that has hit European society hard in the last one and a half years and how this has affected the delivery of public services and, in particular, the way in which work has been re-organised with the aim of assuring the continuity of public services. Telework had already been an existing practice before the pandemic, but its introduction was considerably enhanced when countries decided to put a block on economic activities, including the way in which public services were delivered to the public.

The participants agreed that telework is a practice that will stay once the pandemic will be over, most probably in a hybrid form, with people working at home and regularly meeting their colleagues at the joint workplace. But it was also underlined that the practice of telework has to go together with the elaboration of an appropriate legislation that takes account of possible negative effects resulting from working at home. When telework becomes the norm, serious attention must be paid to the risk that the distinction between work and private life will disappear, with long working hours and an increasing workload, with greater risks of workers losing the balance between work and private life. Moreover, employers’ and workers’ organisations have to reach agreement about how to regulate the question of flexibility.

Other questions raised in this context were: when does work start when you work at home? From the moment at which you open your computer? Will you be free to determine this yourself? How about the payment of your salary? Will you be paid by the hour? How can this be controlled?

One of the speakers spoke of the right you have or have not as a citizen to digitally disconnect.

The seminar topic was discussed from the point of view of speakers representing the three partners of social dialogue. All partners agreed that all parties will benefit from working together with the aim of reaching the same goal, to deliver quality services to the public.