Future (s) of Work – a Conference Report Presenting European Trade Unions’ Perspectives

Published: 16.10.2018

  • the free movement of capital, services and people throughout the European internal market;
  • climate change and energy transition;
  • the demographic change;
  • the digitalisation of the economy.
  • In the opening session Guy Ryder (Director General of the ILO) said we are at a “moment of economic, social and political danger” and we risk “sleepwalking” back to the 1930s.
  • ‘We have only one future’ so it does not make sense to try to analyse and deal with the four key mega-trends (globalism, technological change, demographic transition and climate change) in isolation from each other.
  • We need to recognise this and develop joined up responses that take account of the connections between them. They impact on each other to shape the world of work that we want.
  1. Trade unions need firstly to imagine the ‘new worlds of work’ and they should then consider what this really means before seeking to develop solutions. In her opening talk, the Greek Minister, Effie Achtsioglou, had talked about the need to reassert old rights, but also create new ones that adapt to new world of work. Current workers’ rights do not protect the new kinds of worker. We need to redefine what is a ‘worker’ and what is a ‘company’ in this era of mobile firms and platform working. The boundaries are increasingly blurred. We need to develop new models to deliver sustainable, quality jobs. As Sharron Burrow said, it is not the technology per se that is the problem, but rather the business models of some of those exploiting the new technology. This means not just reacting to but anticipating change. Debates such as this event are important for identifying emerging trends and assessing their significance. This Conference has been as much about identifying what the key questions that we need to address are as identifying the solutions here and now.

  2. Trade unions need to address the fundamental challenge posed by an increasingly fragmented and diverse workforce, which is making them increasingly vulnerable in all sorts of ways. Workers are more in need of protection and of someone to stand up for them than ever. At the same time, it harder for unions to reach out to people and therefore to represent them.

  3. Strong social dialogue and strong collective bargaining are important in addressing new challenges and ensuring just transitions. This was stressed repeatedly in plenaries and in many panels. Social dialogue itself was also impacted by changes in the world of work and it may have to change too. Trade union efforts to improve social dialogue face an uphill struggle. Trade unions need to do more at the European level in a Europeanised and globalised world. Many speakers warned that negotiations at the national level are not enough – they felt that transnational negotiations were needed, though others questioned how realistic this was in practice.

  4. Identifying and understanding interconnections between all the mega-trends is crucial. “We will not succeed if we work in silos” was a point frequently made in the sessions on all the different mega-trends. Delegates felt that governance issues, social and industrial policies, labour market and family policies should all be discussed together. We need to  with others. If we fail to acknowledge this, it will not be possible to develop joined up solutions. We need to deliver generally effective responses to the many interrelated challenges facing us in the new world of work, and then shape that world in the way we want to.

  5. We need to expose the myth that a policy of simply upskilling workers and giving them new digital or Green jobs will solve everything, and that innovation benefits everyone:
  • Upskilling is only part of the answer. “Not all digital jobs and Green jobs are decent ones”. Education and training are key, but they are not enough. Digitalisation does bring new opportunities but not for everyone. The problems facing workers in the emerging new worlds of work are too complex and multifaceted for simple solutions.
  • Luca Visentini rightly said at the opening, we need to avoid simplistic solutions that do not take account of the real risks and challenges facing workers today.
Jacki Davis