The Future of Work in Europe – A union perspective

“Yes we can, but no we’re not”

Just before the final plenary session, the conference’s ‘themeweaver’ Jacki Davis summarised three days of intense discussion on ‘shaping the new world of work’.

“The stakes could not be higher,” she stated, in an economy witnessing increased robotisation and digitalisation. The reshaping of the world of work brings unprecedented change, offering opportunities and also huge challenges: jobs can be created, but many could be destroyed.

She outlined the conference’s main themes, questions and recommendations in 10 concise messages:

1. The need to sustain growth and create quality jobs. Can this be achieved by the EU? Will there be a fair distribution of the bene ts of digitalisation and the prevention of further inequalities? “We need to avoid the situation of digital winners and losers,” Davis emphasised.
2. There has been both an evolution and revolution in the economy. An evolution has happened in terms of precarious work, in-work poverty and low wages, all of which already existed. The revolutionary part is how these trends are being exacerbated. “But actually how revolutionary is this?” asked Davis. “Is this old wine in new bottles – old fashioned capitalism using new technologies to exploit workers?” Is the collaborative economy actually anything of the sort?
3. The revolution cannot be stopped so it is up to policymakers,trade unions and other actors to shape the world of work. Technology and robots can change the world and can be regulated.Whether this is good or bad depends on who owns the technology.
4. Europe is not on the right track at the moment. Current policies are failing to tackle issues.The debate about the social dimension in the single digital market has not received any attention.
5. A “one size fits all” solution will not work. A range of responses is required in different areas, Davis stressed. In some cases there is no need for new legislation, such as in data protection. However, the law is inadequate in other areas and needs radical re-thinking. Anticipating change is imperative. “You can’t plan public policy on something you can’t predict,” reminded Davis.
6. Everyone has to work together through consultation and negotiation. This is challenging in a world where it is increasingly difficult to identify the worker, the workplace and the employer. More debate is needed on how to undertake collective bargaining. How can workers be convinced that they need trade unions to represent them?
7. A holistic approach is necessary to address concerns over widening inequalities. While some could reap huge rewards, others could lose heavily. To prevent this scenario, action needs to be coordinated across Europe at domestic and sectoral level.
8. Skills, training and life long learning are essential to address inequalities. Many concerns were expressed over possibilities of a digital divide between those with the required skills and those without. This could undermine the fabric of society. Skills forecasting is essential to deliver the necessary training in the new economy.
9. Holistic, comprehensive and ‘joined-up’ thinking is required. Issues such as the digital revolution and taxation are intertwined and impact on society at large.
10.Research is key to give trade unions and civil society the “ammunition” needed to raise awareness of major challenges, propose new solutions, answer questions and hold policy makers to account when they don’t deliver.

Summing up the rich insights from the six plenary sessions, 24 panel debates and over 160 speakers, Davis concluded that trade unions could act as a strong leader in this economic transformation. But they had not yet seized the opportunity.
“Yes we can, but no we’re not,” she summed up to the packed audience adding: “Much of it lies in your hands.”

Her assessment, like the conference, ended on a high note. The future would be “safe” in trade union hands, she predicted.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at  Shaping the new world of work: the impacts of digitalisation and robotisation: conference report

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