The European Group of Labour Pastoral (GEPO) met in Charleroi from February 14 to 16, 2021 for its annual conference. The theme of the symposium was "Post COVID-19: the new challenges in the world of work". The seminar was organised with the support of EZA and the European Union. 38 representatives of workers' organisations from Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Portugal participated in the seminar.
The covid 19 pandemic was not only a health crisis, but had, through the lockdown measures that affected all of humanity, enormous consequences on economic life. Rupture of large supply chains, closure of entire sectors, transition to teleworking, reorganisation of our way of creating society. In a way, this period is a period of rupture and reconstruction, of which it is difficult to grasp all the consequences for the future. The meeting in Charleroi allowed us to make an initial assessment of what has changed in the respective countries and to compare our views on the changes underway. A tentative conclusion could be the general movement towards increased digitalisation of all aspects of life and the world of work. This is not without consequences for our relationship to work and could not be accompanied by social dialogue given the urgency of the situation and the difficulty for workers to have space for discussion and negotiation.
Following our symposium at the start of 2021, where we discussed the issues related to the transformation processes induced by the issue of climate change, the crisis linked to Covid poses with a certain radicality the question of the "Quo Vadis". of our world. Many workers have existential anxieties. For those who have kept their jobs, the changes imposed have brought profound repercussions on their relationship to work. The work culture, built around physical presence in the workplace, has been turned upside down for many people by teleworking. The speed of this changeover raises many questions about the organisation of work. Many problems now await answers. As soon as we emerge from the health crisis, the social partners and politicians will have to get back to the negotiating table in order to establish a new framework that takes into account all these issues.
In addition, we have collectively experienced the lack of resilience of our production model in the face of such a crisis. Many politicians have professed that we must relocate industrial production in order to guarantee a certain autonomy. Is this the end of globalisation as we have known it? Are we at the beginning of a real economic change? Reinforcement by the “local” as a possible response to the crisis induced by the pandemic and by climate change seems to be part of the new narrative. But it raises the question of the repercussions on jobs in the short and medium term. How to support workers faced with this change of model?
The following topics were discussed:
Matthieu de Nanteuil, Professor at the UCL (Institute for the Analysis of Change in Contemporary and Historical Societies) in his introductory presentation analysed the major issue of values that underlie the debates on the major questions of the future of humanity in terms of the sustainability of economic growth. It is now necessary to re-discuss the framework of justice in order to create a common basis for negotiations between workers, employers and politicians.
Ana Carla Perreira from Commissioner Schmit's cabinet of experts gave an overview of the major ongoing projects at European Union level: directive on the minimum wage, the digitalization of the economy, the question of "Uberisation" employment and gender equality policies.
The afternoon gave an overview of training and reintegration measures at the Monceau-Fontaines site. After a presentation (Nicolas Leonard, director) on the new realities in the world of training in the context of professional reintegration, the participants were able to visit several projects grouped together on this site and discuss with those in charge.
Next Dimitri Leonard (lecturer UCL, ULB) exposed the situation of the Belgian working world as well as the difficulties which arise at the level of the professional reintegration.
The second day began with a contextualisation of the social doctrine of the Church in the analysis of solidarity issues by Jean-Claude Brau. From the encyclicals Laudato-Si and Fratelli Tutti, we were able to lay down the terms that allow us to glimpse another way of thinking about the questions of solidarity, individualism, common good, social dialogue and to draw up perspectives for our commitment. Afterwards, the different countries from which the participants came presented the situation on the labour market.
The afternoon was reserved for workshops. Three topics were discussed: Precarious employment and globalisation, digitalisation and the question of balance of private life - professional life.
On Saturday morning Claude Rolin, former Secretary General of the CSC and former MEP, proposed a reflection on how to mobilise on issues of social justice.
There is a broad consensus around the question that the effects of Covid 19 have not affected economic sectors, different regions or different categories of workers equally. Some sectors have been affected and it is especially the weakest who have paid the highest price. The issue of social justice and social protection for precarious jobs must be put back at the top of the political agenda.
Nevertheless, we must also take into account certain positive advances in the world of work. Telework is considered, subject to a future legal framework, as beneficial for many employees because it facilitates (under certain conditions) the reconciliation between private life and working life. But we must ensure that this digitisation is indeed the fruit of social dialogue, and therefore the result of collective bargaining. Similarly, the discussion around relocation gives hope for the end of all-out globalisation, which could be an opportunity for the development for structurally weak regions in Europe. This is also in line with the search for new solutions at the level to counter the climate crisis. In addition, we were able to see what are still essential professions today. This brings us back to a real discussion on the economic goals and the values to be defended. These strategies must include the question of social security, which is at the heart of solidarity. It must be strengthened instead of weakened by structural reforms which often amount to nothing more than privatization.
- A legal framework must be created through negotiation (social dialogue) for telework
- We must also guarantee in the future that “customers” can access all services without having to go through the digital world (accessibility for all).
- Invest in training and especially in continuing education
- Develop a European framework that manages new issues related to digitalisation and teleworking: electronic signature, review the posting directive in this context, promote European networks and applications
- We must give voice to people who live and work in precarious conditions and build real solutions with them..
- We must improve the working conditions and the remuneration of young people. Too many young people have to accept precarious contracts that no longer allow them to build an independent life.
- We must help the poorest to access their rights, which they are often unaware of
Private life – professional life
The changes experienced in the relationship between private life and professional life are numerous and diverse. They have been accelerated by the health crisis and the decided isolation measures. We note:
- The means used in private life (premises, PCs, internet connection, heating, etc.) were used for work, for the children to take lessons. These means are not always adequate for this and this and it has generated additional costs for families.
- The family home had to adapt to multiple presences during times devoted to work or study. Women working from home have sometimes been penalised by the lack of dedicated space.
- The collective workplace is a place of debate between people of the same profession. These discussions, these "disputes" are moments of taking a step back necessary to live well one's life at work
- During this period, we found that there was a need to set collective rules for disconnection to give a framework to working time, to respond to the feeling of suspicion of inactivity during periods of teleworking.
- All these changes must be integrated into social dialogue to find concerted and balanced responses.
- Jointly lead a fight for a new economy that is more respectful of society issues, both in our countries and internationally. The post-covid period will have to lead us to a new humanism centred on the various needs of people.
- Make all our organisations and members aware that the challenge of the Covid crisis requires a coherent approach, both individually and politically. All questions are interdependent and we are aware that we must rebuild another economy that puts people at the centre of its approach