In a hearing this week (14th May 2018), the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs dealt with the subject of digitalisation and the consequences for labour markets and social security systems. The presentation included several current studies and thematically relevant works.


The starting point of the hearing was a new STOA study, which was presented by Bernhard Dachs of the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). Currently – according to the analysis of the author – a race, due to the new information technologies, is taking place between the creation of new jobs and the destruction of work places. Such races also took place during the technological developments of the past; however, these were almost always won by the creation of new jobs. Some researchers doubt that in the current case of digitalisation it will be possible to decide the race in favour of the workforce. In a positive narrative, which is also shared by the author of the study, machines would take over routine tasks and new jobs and careers for employees would come into being. To achieve this scenario, the study recommends to invest in education, infrastructure as well as in research and development, to strengthen the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe and to undertake a reform of the tax systems as well as opening new financing sources for social security systems.


Samuel Engblom of the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees TCO analysed the digital change from a trade union perspective. From his point of view, social safety nets and an active labour market policy would play an important role in two respects: it was about enabling digital change, but also to mitigate its negative consequences. The political challenge is to integrate new forms of work in existing regulations, for example in the case of taxi and transport companies. The area of application concerning legislation, for example relating to the sectors of worker protection and further education/training should be expanded. In addition, Engblom called for a stronger role of trade unions and collective agreement negotiations.


Valerio de Stefano, Professor for Labour Law at the University of Leuven, considered it as necessary to redefine 'work'. Tariff agreements, trade union representation, antidiscrimination and further labour laws had to be extended to that circle of vulnerable people, who are currently not covered by labour law. In addition, Prof. de Stefano also referred to the problem of disciplining employees via algorithms. These would also be used to exclude people from work. He critically viewed current court rulings from France and Italy, which denied employees of the platform economy the status of an employee only due to (allegedly) flexible working hours.


Gerlind Wisskirchen, co-author of the Study “Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Their Impact on the Workplace” from the Global Employment Institute of the International Bar Association, regards mass unemployment as a not unrealistic scenario: according to her assessment, 15 % of all jobs will be replaced during the coming 10 years, another 20 % will be strongly affected by the effects of digitalisation. According to Wisskirchen, the existing labour law is far lagging behind reality - both at European and national level. In fact, the gap between labour law and reality had even widened during the recent years. The lawyer warned against an approaching “Tsunami” and urges politicians to act: current legislative proposals would not be sufficient by far.


In her capacity as EESC rapporteur, Franca Salis Madinier presented two current opinions on new forms of work and the role of the social partners as well as on EU concepts for the transition to a digital workplace. She diagnosed inequalities also within the EU. Different digitalisation risks would exist between Member States and sectors. One could learn from already implemented solutions in individual Member States. As examples she quoted the establishment of the “Right to Disconnect” in France, the negotiations concerning a tariff agreement within the scope of the platform economy in Denmark as well as employee participation models as an example for inclusive artificial intelligence in the Netherlands.


Finally, co-author of the study Chris Forde reported on the results of a Study on the Social Protection of Workers in the Platform Economy, which was commissioned by the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. Within the scope of the study, a survey among 1,200 employees of the platform economy (among other Amazon Mechanical Turk, Clickworker, Crowdflower, Microworkers) as well as 50 interviews was carried out in 8 EU Member States. Only 26 % of the people taking part in the survey were satisfied with their pay; even lower was the satisfaction (20 %) with regard to career opportunities. In particular employees, who were strongly dependent of the platform, often had very little or no social protection. Hence, the authors of this study too called for expanding social protection and for new forms of trade union representation.


Following the discussion, MEP Agnes Jongerius (S&D) demanded – with reference to a current study of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation – the creation of a separate EU Directive for the platform economy.


For further reading:

STOA Study “The impact of new technologies on the labour market and the social economy“”

Study “Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Their Impact on the Workplace

EMPL Study: The Social Protection of Workers in the Platform Economy

Video EP Hearing

Presentation documents for the EP Hearing

A&W Blog: Digitalisation: How to get through this as a society

A&W Blog: Qualification and further training in the context of digitalisation

AK EUROPA: Digital market or digital slavery?

AK EUROPA: Digitalisation of the workplace: More questions than answers?