The challenges of digital change for trade unions were the topic of an event organised by AK EUROPA and the ÖGB Europabüro on 24 April 2019. Agnes Streissler-Führer and Esther Lynch discussed the subject “Trade unions: Fit for the digital world?” and described possibilities of how digitalisation could be shaped socially.
The increasing digitalisation has huge effects on people’s everyday and professional life. Technical progress, ”new” forms of work (platform jobs, crowdworking), social media, access to information and Artificial Intelligence entail advantages, but also risks and challenges. The particular question, which arises for trade unions, is how to socially and fairly shape digital change and how trade unions should act in the future to steer digital progress in the right direction.
To begin with, Agnes Streissler-Führer, Deputy General Secretary (Union of Private Sector Employees, Graphical Workers and Journalists, ÖGB (GPA djp) emphasised the influence that social media have on our life and what risks are associated with this influence. Here, she sees the trade unions as wardens of a human technology, which supports, but not harms people. Trade unions benefit from digitalisation, for example by digitalising internal processes, thereby saving time. This also includes the processing data of own members to be able to provide them with targeted information. However, in contrast to major digital corporations such as Facebook or YouTube, this is only carried out in a transparent manner and only for internal purposes.
Apart from that, Agnes Streissler-Führer explained the challenge that digitalisation for the labour market. Here, Austria is well-positioned, not least thanks to the good social dialogue. Nevertheless, it has to be ensured that high-quality jobs and not precarious jobs are created. Crowdworking and the precarious jobs associated with it, is also a challenge for Austria. She emphasised that the same labour laws had to apply to the “new” forms of work. The Austrian trade union VIDA was already able to celebrate first successes in this area: cycle couriers have joined forces, established a works council and were just in the process of negotiating the first collective agreement for this sector. Agnes Streissler-Führer emphasised that trade unions should focus on steering digital change in the right direction and not to reject it beforehand. Here, she sees in particular the EU as the decisive actor of human digitalisation.
Esther Lynch, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), explained the effects of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the everyday and professional life of people, for example by digitalised application processes. AI always follows certain algorithms, which in turn may be discriminating. Hence, trade unions should draw attention to the consequences and risks of AI. Lynch pointed out that the possibility of constant online assessments of services (e.g. friendliness and satisfaction assessments for taxi services, hotels) causes employees stress.
Esther Lynch emphasised that it is also extremely important for trade unions to reach the “new” employees and to represent their interests. A framework of cohesion and organisation within the “new” employees has to be created to convince them of the work done by trade unions. Due to the digital change, some jobs will also be lost in the future. However, Esther Lynch does not see the solution in an (unconditional) basic income, but in strengthening the welfare state.
Further information: ETUC Confederal Secretary