EPSU Position Paper on Smart Public Services for a Digital Age

(25 May 2016) Adopted by the EPSU executive committee on 19 April 2016

The digitalisation of public services is a challenge being faced, to a greater or lesser degree by workers and communities, across Europe.

EPSU believes that this process opens up opportunities for higher quality public services that are better to work in and more adapted to citizens. However, there are undoubtedly risks: digitalisation cannot be a cover for outsourcing, job losses and privatisation. The protection of workers’ and citizens’ data must be paramount. New technology must improve work-life balance and working conditions.

The EPSU Executive Committee, which met in April, approved a position paper which sets out our vision for a fair and inclusive digitalisation of public services.

The full position paper is available below. EPSU sets out a number of core criteria for a fair and inclusive digitalisation:

  • In order to see improvement in services from digitalisation more investment is needed, not cuts in resources. Effective staffing and adequate IT-infrastructure is essential to independently assess quality of digital public services and to ensure that digitalisation raises and not lowers quality.
  • Digitalisation must not  be a cover for public-private partnerships and outsourcing. Insourcing and public-public partnerships are instead viable alternatives that defend the quality of public services.
  • Gender equality must be mainstreamed into every aspect of digitalisation. Negative attitudes towards women’s ICT skills must be challenged and training must be adapted for different groups within the workforce. Systems must be designed as to make use of the less visible ‘soft skills’ that workers have.
  • Collective bargaining and  European Social Dialogue must address the impact of digitalisation on work organisation and information and training as well as to disseminate best practice.
  • EPSU supports the ‘right to disconnect’ for public service workers.
  • The Working Time Directive must be respected and any future revision must improve worker protection in the context of the proliferation of mobile technology and teleworking arrangements. The impact of digitalisation must be included in the European discussions on work-life balance.
  • Telework should improve, not worsen, employee’s work-life balance. EPSU is against the atomisation of tasks in public services and their farming-out to crowd-working platforms.
  • The health and safety environment has to be adapted to new work processes brought about by digitalisation. This also means providing safe, regular and secure employment conditions as a way of combatting the increased PSRs.
  • Public service workers must not be penalised for whistleblowing.
  • Social dialogue structures, at whichever level, will need to tackle the issue of digitalisation head on. Common standards, agreed by social partners, that protect health and safety, involve workers and provide for quality training, are the surest way of achieving an inclusive digitalisation, both for public service workers and for citizens that use the services.
  • Employers must consult trade unions and workers’ representatives on the introduction and use of new technology in the workplace.
  • Training must be dynamic, taking into account the different levels of digital literacy in the workforce and, although starting from different levels, aim to bring all workers to the same high standard.
  • Training must be at least as good as in the private sector. This is necessary to maintain the attractiveness of public sector employment and to safeguard the viability of public services in an increasingly digital world. The focus must always be on users and delivering the best possible service.
  • Digital public services should always be an option for those who prefer them, not an obligation that widens the digital divide. If public services are to be delivered digitally ‘by default’ then non-digital options must also be available.
  • The Digital Agenda for Europe must include resources to ensure full connectivity both in private homes and public spaces.
  • Projects developing Open Source Software in Public Administration, which have disappeared since the start of the crisis, must be relaunched
  • EPSU is against trade agreements that compromise European citizens’ right to privacy and that limit or undermine data protection.
  • Public data should be used for the public good with the strongest levels of protection for individuals. Private companies should not be allowed to mine data collected by public authorities.
  • Potential sanctions for misuse of the internet at work should be clear and proportionate. Workers’ must be informed if and what employers monitor about their internet activity. 
  • EPSU supports the creation of worker data protection legislation at EU level, to ensure minimum standards for all workers.

You can download the full position paper in 6 languages below as well as the related appendix (in English only)