Trade unions facing technological challenges

The project that gives rise to the conference “Los sindicatos ante los retos tecnológicos” [Trade Unions facing technological challenges] has been developed in 2018 and 2019 by the Eticas Foundation team with the collaboration of COTEC, CCOO and ETUI. 

A strategic alliance that arises from the urgency of evaluating the impact of new and old technological processes in all labor sectors and defining long-term strategies to identify and mitigate negative effects.

Digitalization, automation and artificial intelligence force us to rethink internal organization processes -designed until today for a territorial and face-to-face organization that is less and less hegemonic-, to expand claims -to include privacy, among others-, to expand technical capacities -creating virtual spaces for relationships and defense, creating technologies for the defense of rights-, to develop diagnoses and own technological agendas -that set limits and standards also in technical specifications- and to rethink the proposed social programme of trade unionism to include redistribution and the tax system in a globalised and robotised world, or training and the gender gap in technical jobs.

In the spirit of starting to address all these challenges, a first report has been produced in which: 

1- A review is made of the historically established relationship between technological change and the trade union movement, and how the latter has been a key player in guaranteeing and winning new rights.

2- The debate on the Digital Revolution is approached from a critical perspective, pondering the impact on labor relations of different processes; such as automation, digitization, and platformization.

3- The main institutional approaches to the Future of Work are synthesized and roadmaps are proposed with the capacity to overcome approaches that are too often debated between techno-optimism and techno-pessimism.

4- Examples of good trade union practices in the face of technological change at the global level are identified around three areas of impact; the organisational environment, the regulatory environment and the workplace environment.

Main areas of work

As a result of the analysis of good union practices in the face of technological change worldwide and of the interviews with key actors in these experiences, some lines of action have been identified, among which the following stand out: 

the expansion of social dialogue for better collective bargaining and the incorporation of new organizational tools to achieve this; the participation of workers in the design of public policies and the need to define future-proof competence programs for workers and the need to define future-proof competence programs for workers; the introduction of ethical standards for better work and technology and the defence of digital rights in the workplace. In turn, and with the aim of moving towards a new “operating system”, these lines of action have been grouped into three major blocks: new strategic tools, new structural conditions and new working environments.

New strategic tools

The first real change we face as a result of technological innovation is the progressive reduction of the forms of work that physically link workers. The technology of the 21st century favours the disappearance of distance and the workplace as a physical space and concentration of labour force. In the same way it facilitates dynamics of offshoring and outsourcing of different parts of a production process. The impact of this on the forms of trade union organization is profound and undermines the foundations of modern trade unionism, requiring a rethinking of both practices and strategies of the trade union organization itself.

New structural conditions

The future of work, concerning to job offers, is being discussed among four dynamics: there will be jobs that will disappear, jobs that will emerge, jobs that will move and jobs that will change. At present, all jobs already require some form of socio-technical interaction, and that means new skills, expectations and working conditions, as well as incorporating difficult-to-audit algorithmic decision elements. Added to the training challenges is the need to adapt legal frameworks and agreements to the new socio-technical reality of work. 

New Working Environments

The implementation of new technologies in the workplace incorporates the storage of personal data in the daily work and the automation of decisions by means of algorithms in contracting processes, incentive, dismissal and restructuring policy; by intensifying the control of workers, who often do not know when or how they are being monitored and evaluated. Furthermore, these new processes alter traditional forms of collective bargaining and unbalance the relationship between employees and employers, since the supposed neutrality of technology allows greater opacity in decision-making and its justification in technical terms. 


July 8, 2019

9:30 am Welcome and presentation of the project
Unai Sordo

General Secretary of CCOO

Cristina Garmendia
President of the COTEC Foundation

Gemma Galdon
President of the Eticas Foundation

10:00 am Pass of the video documentary #MiEmpleoMiFuturo [#MyEmploymentMyFuture]
10: 30h Presentation of the study “Trade Unions, Labour rights and Technological Change
11.30h The role of Trade Unions in the 21st Century: platforms, machines and rights

Bruno Estrada
Economist, Deputy to the General Secretary of the CCOO

Henar Alvarez Cuesta
Professor of Labour Law and Social Security of the University of León

María Luz Vega
Coordinator of the ILO’s Future of Work Initiative

Lucia Velasco

Member of High-Level Expert Group on the Impact of the Digital Transformation on EU Labour Markets

13:00 New organisational strategies and tools for trade union action

Javier Fernandez
Union Action Secretariat of CCOO 

Amparo Merino
Member of the project “Fundamental rights in the face of the change of subordinate work in the digital age”

Oscar Molina Romo
Researcher on Labour Relations at the UAB Institute of Labour Studies

15:30h Digital rights at work: from the right to disconnect to conscientious objection

Jaime Cabezas
Professor of Labor Law and Social Security at the University of Vigo

Carlos Hugo Preciado
TSJ magistrate and author of the book “Los derechos digitales de las personas trabajadoras” [The digital rights of working people] 

Carlos Gutiérrez
Secretary of Youth and New Realities of Work CCOO

Gemma Galdon
President of the Eticas Foundation

Este proyecto ha recibido financiación del Programa de Innovación Abierta (PIA) de la Fundación Cotec en la convocatoria 2017.