[email protected]: What role for interest representation in the digital world of work?

On January 29, CESI and the Saxony Liaison Office Brussels hosted the 20th edition of CESI’s lunchtime debate series ‘[email protected]’, this time on ‘Digital world of work: What role for interest representation?’

Against the backdrop of digitalising work patterns, manifested also in the growth of the platform economy, CESI and the Saxony Liaison Office Brussels hosted a debate with stakeholders, practitioners and politicians on the role of interest representation and trade unions in the digital economy.

An expert panel with practitioners, stakeholders and politicians

Following a welcome address by Hartmut Mangold, State Secretary at the Saxon Ministry for Economic Affairs, Labour and Transport, Mehtap Akgüç, research fellow at the Brussels-based Centre for the European Policy  (CEPS) think tank presented the findings of her latest study on industrial relations and social dialogue in the age of the collaborative economy which CESI was involved in as one of the partners.

This was followed-up on by a panel debate with practitioners, stakeholders and politicians:

• Hartmut Mangold
• Agnes Jongerius, a longstanding Dutch trade unionst and since 2014 an engaged MEP for a regulation of employment in the digital economy

• Filippo Chiricozzi, co-founder of the Italian food delivery platform ‘Moovenda’ which has been recognised for its efforts to ensure decent work through employee contracts with minimum remuneration and social security
• Lorenzo Repetti, adviser at the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) which has been running first projects to reach out to and represent digital and platform economy workers

During the debate, fundamental questions were addressed relating to how employment in the digital economy can be regularised and how trade unions could become involved in this process and increasinly represent digital workers, such as:

• At which level should decent work and adequate social protection for those in the digital and platform economy be ensured? Via social and employment standards set by the legislator, via social partners and trade unions, or a combination of both?
• Can trade unions open up to digital workers, which are often technically self-employed?
• To what extent do digital workers feel the need to be represented by trade unions? What services do trade unions need to offer them to become attractive in case social dialogue is not a practical format for interest representation in the sector?

During the debate it emerged that flat-rate and general answers are difficult given the fragmentation and variety of facets governing the digital work sector. At the same time, it became obvious that there is a clear need for the legislator to set effective minimum standards for decent work in the sector. It was specified that there is a particular case for EU measures, given that the digital economy takes place ‘in the cloud’ and across different jurisdictions and Member States and that in this context EU legislation would complement the single market, at least partially, with a much-needed social dimension.

It was added that trade unions can play an important supportive role in this and open up, where possible, to digital workers and represent them. It was stressed that becoming (more) attractive for digital workers trade unions would require new services beyond social dialogue, including individual legal assistance, advice on income and social security and support for a self-organisation in online platforms. As CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger put it in his concluding remarks: “The digital work sector is growing and suffers from a lack of representation. This means that there is a big playing field for trade unions, in  particular against the background of ageing and decreasing memberships that many trade unions suffer.”

Picture: [email protected] © CESI 2019