An obvious recent trend in the labour markets in Europe has been the emergence of new forms of employment and atypical work patterns, above all in the collaborative economy.
To direct these changes towards a sustainable and socially just direction, the following steps appear to be the most central:
Firstly, in order to subject this area as largely as possible to core labour law standards, a general definition of what constitutes ’employment’ is the most pressing. The European Commission´s opening a discussion on this as part of the ongoing social partner consultation on a possible review of the Written Statement Directive seems to point into the right direction.
In a second step, all types of work, particularly non-standard work and self-employment, must be tied to quality social protection. The European Commission’s recent initiative on social protection for all under the European Pillar of Social Rights must be welcomed as a way to launch in-depth reflections in this regard.
Thirdly, in joint efforts, policy makers, trade unions as well as companies should develop more and better further training and lifelong learning schemes for everyone. Workers need to adjust to new developments and technologies faster than ever before. Ensuring the life-long acquisition of digital competences– without neglecting the transmission of general knowledge, values and critical thinking– is key.
Finally, trade unions may have to go beyond their traditional roles in collective bargaining and social dialogue and find new ways to cater for the interests of people employed in the collaborative economy, i.e. gig and cloud workers. Those workers have a special need to be represented, but they may need different services than trade unions have traditionally offered.
During the Tallinn conference it was highlighted that new technologies can contribute to more meaningful and humane jobs and to a better work-life balance – And that jobs will be lost while others will be created.
In order to take fears away, it is especially up to the trade unions to shape these inevitable changes for the better. They must steer developments and keep (social) control of the digital age. Realising the importance of shaping digitalisation – instead of simply being shaped by it- is already a step forward on the way to proactively embracing new technologies.
Picture: © Estonian EU Presidency 2017