UNI Europa and ETNO release new report on the impact of the green-digital transition on ICTS workers

ETNO and UNI Europa ICTS, the social partners in telecoms, launch a new research report in the framework of their joint EU-funded project on ‘Accelerating Sustainability in Telecoms’.

UNI Europa and ETNO release new report on the impact of the green-digital transition on ICTS workers

The report identifies eleven key emerging technologies that are expected to have an impact on social and environmental sustainability in the telecommunication industry. Among the  analysed technologies are e.g. Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Analytics,  Edge Computing, Internet of Things, Optic Fibre and GPON, Quantum Technologies, cybersecurity, extended reality, and xRAN. The report underlines both opportunities and challenges stemming from the deployment of such new technologies, with a focus on their impact on sustainability and on skills and the labour market.

Telecom innovation: a strong positive impact on environmental sustainability

Today, the European telecom sector’s energy consumption is made up by at least 80% of energy coming from renewable sources, and telcos have been setting ambitious targets to cut their carbon emissions. The study found that – if adequate investment is injected into deployment and adoption – the impact of these key emerging technologies on environmental sustainability is potentially substantial, with solutions converging on their ability to make telcos more energy-efficient.

A recent European Commission study shows a €174 bn investment gap in the telecom sector for deploying and adopting new technologies. This gap will widen as more advanced solutions are needed across industries. Some solutions aim to streamline processes and re-allocate energy flows only where they are most needed (e.g., data analytics and AI), while others represent newer generations of known technologies that consume inherently less energy than their predecessors (such as 5G, optic fibre, and edge computing).

Additionally, as part of a broader trend in the ICT sector, some telcos are exploring new roles as digital service providers, offering their customers digital and technological solutions to become more energy-efficient. This confirms the role of telcos as key enablers of sustainability in the wider society.

Digital-green transition and workers: mapping opportunities and challenges

Concerning the technologies’ impact on workers, skills and the labour market, the analysis presented some favourable impacts and some points for concern. Certain Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) applications raised concerns around workers’ rights, such as the infringement of privacy and potential reductions in individual autonomy.

However, the same technologies can also be positively harnessed to create better safety conditions for workers, particularly during hazardous and repetitive tasks, creating positive wellbeing outcomes. Other technologies, such as 5G/6G, optic fiber, cloud computing, and edge computing, will be pivotal to the growing prevalence of telework and hybrid work, which are also emerging as key trends in the labour sphere with significance for telcos.

In particular, the organisation of work tasks and workspaces is expected to change significantly and will possibly have implications for workers’ health and safety. In parallel, nearly all the technologies examined had an impact on the skills required by telcos on the labour market, which are constantly evolving and in need of being upgraded. According to a recent report by the European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA), cloud computing takes up the highest share of professionals with advanced technological skills, followed by photonics and IoT.

Sustainability and social dialogue: early engagement is key

The key focus of the joint ETNO-UNI Europa ICTS project – and therefore also of the report – is to identify the role of the social partners in promoting and accompanying the twin transition in the telecom sector. Due to the potentially both negative and positive impact of technology on workers , it is crucial that  employee representatives and trade union  are involved from the start of technology roll-out.

Social dialogue based on trust and transparency and collective bargaining take on a particularly important role in the road to the twin transition by promoting sustainability and mitigating the negative effects of technology implementation.

The report identifies identify two major areas of impact that can be effectively implemented through social dialogue and collective bargaining. First, the change in skills required by the labour market that can be managed through upskilling or reskilling programmes. Second, the impact of the twin transition on working conditions, including employees’ well-being, job stability, work-life balance, workers’ engagement levels, and occupational health and safety.

Lise Fuhr, Director General of ETNO, said: “This study is a valuable contribution to enhancing sustainability in the telecommunication industry. By analysing the impact of key emerging technologies, we can better understand how to harness their potential for positive change for both workforce and environment.”

Oliver Roethig, UNI Europa Regional Secretary, said: “This report makes a clear case for social dialogue and collective bargaining in managing the twin transition in the ICT sector to improve working conditions.”

Download the report here. Download infographics here.

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