Arbeit (Work) 4.0 About values, solidarity and decent work in a digital age

(15 June 2015) Digitalisation and increased automation bring many challenges for workers, including in the public services. That is why Ver.di has been organising a series of conferences to consider the positive and negative aspects of the new technological revolution recognising that the technological progress is rapid.

Digitalisation brings many opportunities for more autonomy and different management of working time, for example. It could assist in freeing us from heavy and repetitive work both physically and mentally. It allows people to have more permanent access to government services and can make for more effective and efficient administrations.

It can also lead to more oversight with constant monitoring of work as in the case in Amazon in Germany where Ver.di has been organising industrial action to obtain a collective agreement and better information and consultation rights. Devices workers use to do their job also assist management in tracking workers and controlling their time even to the last second. Speaking with a co-worker is a "distraction" as it does not contribute to higher productivity and is followed by sanctions for example. Trade union and works council work is similarly obstructed.

New phenomena arise like crowd-workers that seek their assignments online via crowd-sourcing platforms like Mechanical Turk and who are in direct competition with crowd-workers across the planet. The platform advertises with "Have access to a global, on-demand, 24 x 7 workforce" and with "Pay only when you're satisfied with the results." Such work does not decrease but increases the psycho-social risks and throws more workers in precarious employment. No collective agreements, no insurance and not pensions are offered. Such work also undermines social security and health insurance systems as well as taxation. Information and consultation rights are undermined. Several workers which where members of works councils testified about their experiences.

Digitalisation is a new battlefield where what is appropriate use or not is being defined. Recent examples of exploitation include the way the platform Uber is used to offer taxi-services and a French court seeks to set limits. Facebook is dragged before the commission to protect privacy in Belgium as it's policy of monitoring non-users is deemed to be a violation of your privacy. Facebook says it falls under Irish rules, an argument that is not accepted by the Belgian authorities.

Verdi President Frank Bsirske underlined how digital technology and more and more networking should be focused on contributing to better working and living conditions for all. That needs choices and regulation and including for work. This is the work also of politicians. Verdi has agreed with the German minister of Work and Social Affairs Andrea Nahles, speaking at the Conference, a plan of steps for Decent Work in Digital Societies. Such a plan includes guaranteeing rights for workers independent of the contract and respecting "digital suzerainty", ensuring employment security, and making sure that workers can get training to keep up with technological change for example.

Also European Commissioner Oettinger, responsible for the Digital Agenda in the European Union, presented the work being done focusing on the Digital Single Market recognising that skills and education are important. Other issues considered included:
- What should be our demands to ensure that IT-infrastructures, work and business processes that are focused on society ?
- Examples were given of how doctors, nurses and other medical staff are assisted in health care, about the increased psycho-social pressures with more controls and monitoring of workers
- How new technologies can assist the scoring of individuals, for example to evaluate the risks they bring for health care insurance companies, and with it the pressure on solidarity based systems.
- An absolutely key question is data protection for individuals but also at work as digitalisation permits the effective monitoring of everything that a worker does. With the efforts to open up "big data" for commercial exploitation and the possibilities to sell data require regulation to prevent that the profit motive leads to exclusion. Preventing that the data lead back to individuals is key to make it work.
- The impact of the free trade agreements like TTIP on Digital Rights which underlines how the trade agreement could undermine data protection rules, allow for encryption to be circumvented and weaken net neutrality.

Verdi has been very active and adopted already in 2008 a Manifest for Public Services 2.0, also signed by the EPSU General Secretary at the time that has lost little of its significance
The Conference took place 10-11 June 2015, Berlin. The EPSU General Secretary participated in the final podium session.