EU Social Partners adopt agreement on digitalisation for central and federal government

Digitalisation agreement

(13 July 2022) On Friday, 17 June, the EU social partners for central governments – TUNED (Trade Unions’ National and European Administration Delegation) led by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) for the trade union side and European Public Administration Employers (EUPAE) for the employers - reached a landmark agreement on digitalisation.

“For too long, employees and their trade union representatives have been kept in the dark on digitalisation on the ground that it was just about technology. The agreement reached with 18 governments corrects this,” says Jan Willem Goudriaan, General Secretary, EPSU. “Digitalisation shapes an entirely new work organisation. Trade unions have a strong role to play and social dialogue must be at the heart of the digitalisation process to ensure it benefits workers and citizens.”

The agreement was negotiated over a year with the financial support of the European Commission with a view to becoming EU law (Directive) for adoption in Council. Its content and future legal status were both approved by the EUPAE members’ Public Administration Ministers and EPSU executive committee members. If the Commission agrees to a legislative implementation, it will provide some 8 million workers and civil servants with new or stronger protection on telework, the right to disconnect, training, health and safety, personal data, outsourcing and human-in command artificial intelligence.

As a baseline, the agreement provides for trade unions’ right to shape digitalisation at national level. It builds upon both the cross-sector agreements on digitalisation (2020) and telework (2002) as well as a previous project run by central government social partners on digitalisation and work-life balance in 2017 which built in the possibility for a binding agreement.

In view of the expansion of expensive private IT consultants in the state sector, this agreement encourages governments to invest in IT skills of its own staff rather than relying on private companies. As the Covid-19 pandemic has generalised telework across the state sector, the agreement ascertains it must remain voluntary and reversible. It must be available for every worker with the necessary support and equipment to work from home, based on a joint analysis with the unions of the tasks and activities.

It also reaffirms the duty of the employers to conduct health risk assessments on a regular basis in consultation with trade unions. The risk assessments must include staffing levels and risks of harassment and violence amongst others. A provision of the agreement underlines the workplace dimension of domestic violence.

The agreement will be officially signed on Thursday, 6 October in Brussels, following which social partners will submit a request to the Commission for implementation in line with article 155.2 of the EU treaties.

“As part of its ongoing review of the social dialogue, the Commission has called upon social partners to strike more agreements. The agreement will be the opportunity to walk its talk,” Goudriaan concludes.

This sectoral agreement comes on the heels of the recent decision by cross-sector social partners to revise the 2002 agreement to make it more relevant and legally binding. The agreement’s provisions on telework are a good basis for the cross-sector negotiations after the summer.