A just digital future and economy for European services workers

Thursday 23 March 2017

Today, UNI Europa’s Regional Secretary Oliver Roethig is speaking at a high level event on digitalisation – the ‘Digital Day’, organised by the European Commission and the Republic of Italy, in collaboration with the Maltese Presidency of the European Union. The focus of the session will be ‘Digital Transformation, Jobs and Skills’ and the effects digitalisation will have on the European labour markets. Here are UNI Europa’s views on how the European Union should address the challenges of digitalisation when it comes to decent working life in Europe.

Digitalisation offers a wealth of opportunities but it also changes the world of work fundamentally – with new technologies but also with new employment relationships.

UNI Europa, representing 7 million European services workers, is fighting for quality work in a digitalised world. Why?

Because digitalisation hits service sector workers hard, in particular those in the mid-skill and mid-salary range. That means, it influences the work life of 70% of European workers who generate 70% of Europe’s GDP.

First, there is the issue of automation:

The OECD estimates that 25-40% of all jobs will have more than 50% of their tasks being replaced by automation in the next 10-15 years. While that does not mean that the individual jobs disappear, overall it still means a reduction of 17%. Major job losses will be in the services sector, in particular in the mid-skilled and mid-salary range (administrative, clerical work, transport and logistics but also technical, professional and managerial jobs). This enhances the trend towards an increasingly polarised labour market. While low quality jobs remain more numerous than high quality jobs, the ratio of mid-quality jobs will fall to about 50%+ of the workforce by 2025.

That is where trade unions come in, to protect workers and ensure they have access to the best possible working conditions with decent pay, appropriate health and safety standards and a healthy work life balance.

Second, there is the issue of employment relationships:

The trend towards a hyper-mobile labour market and the emergence of crowd work and online platforms brings flexibility and new opportunities but it also means a trend to breaking down otherwise complex tasks into simple and repetitive routines and a trend to workers from across the globe becoming competitors, increasing downward pressure on wages and precarious employment relationships.

While trade unions see a whole new world of potential, too, we think we have to make sure that digitalisation and in particular the online platform economy does not create a second tier labour market with poorer social and fundamental rights and a hollowing out of the existing labour standards of Europe’s social model.

If done rightly and proactively, the EU is actually best placed to lead the way globally in turning digitalisation into a win for all. But in order to do so, the social and labour dimension needs to move into the focus, in order to stop the increase in precarious work, guarantee a just transition for workers and ensure that they are not being played against each other by unscrupulous employers.

A just digital economy for workers has to

  • ensure a level playing field between on- and offline businesses and workers;
  • guarantee equal social and labour markets rights for all workers in on- and offline work;
  • guarantee workers’ pay and working conditions that are decent and fair;
  • empower all workers, regardless of age, skill type and geographical location to cope with rapid technological change;
  • secure and increase access to skills and lifelong learning in the services industries, with social partners at its core;
  • encourage workers to organise in trade unions and bargain collectively, including transnationally;
  • ensure that everyone contributes their fair share and that governments have the means to combat inequality and precariousness.

Digital Day, the digital part of the official celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, is taking place in Rome, on 23 March 2017. The event is organised by the European Commission and the Republic of Italy, in collaboration with the Maltese Presidency of the European Union and will look at topics that impact the near and long term future of EU citizens.

Join the discussion under #DigitalskillsEU or find out more here