Partnership Approach

Whereas the adoption of digital technologies is proceeding, while at differentiated paces in European countries despite the upsurge of remote working and learning after the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, there are several estimates and already some evidences on their impact on the world of work. On the one side, there are studies casting light on a considerable proportion of jobs threatened by digitalisation, a polarisation of competences in labour markets, whereby a growing share of highqualification activities is accompanied by persisting easy and non-automatable tasks, and the paradoxical combination of decentralisation and multifunctional roles with standardisation and control tasks in modern work-organisational models. On the other side, analyses emphasise the longterm employment creation resulting from digital technologies, an upgrading of qualifications and skills due to the increasing complexity of digitised industrial work, and self-organised and highly flexible work organisation systems. The picture is complex and after all, as the ETUC resolution (2016) pointed out, ‘nobody has a crystal ball to look into the digital future and there is no such thing as technological determinism related to digitalisation’. Further complicating the situation are the issues of climate change and the aging population, both requiring structural reforms in the economy and society.

To deal with this challenge, workers’ reps should build, along with other political and social players, the necessary infrastructural conditions to grasp the opportunities arising from digitalisation and environmental sustainability, while preventing the exacerbation of long-standing issues (e.g., wage and

income inequality, poverty, unemployment, gender disparities, etc.) due to the pressure of new ones. They should adopt an anticipatory and proactive approach to transformations at national and cross-national, local and company level. Workers’ reps should thus engage with employers in phased innovation plans starting with joint analyses and assessments of existing situations, also in collaboration with external experts and institutes, to get in-depth information in due time; they should then prepare the ground for innovation by jointly delivering the skills needed to workers and managers; outline shared developmental plans with testing phases, priority setting, time-bound phases and support tools; and collectively monitor and evaluate the processes, thus implementing the necessary adjustments and follow-ups. Finally, workers’ reps should make sure that productivity paybacks are equally distributed among the workers enabling them.

In the 2021 collective agreement of Renault España, bargaining parties committed themselves to addressing the changes related to new technologies, via both workers’ trainings and information and consultation procedures. Firstly, the parties agreed that the company has to implement personalised training paths, in order to respond to the needs of adaptability vis-à-vis technological and organisational changes and the evolution of professional profiles. In addition to this, in a context characterised by the company’s demands for production processes optimisation, digitalisation and automation, the parties provided for the establishment of a joint labour-management committee on new technologies, where workers’ representatives are to receive prior and exhaustive information on possible initiatives of technological innovation and their implications on work environment. Moreover, the committee is tasked with issuing suggestions or proposals to company management on topics related to technological transformations.
In Italy, technological changes urged decentralised collective bargaining to find new solutions for competitiveness and participation. In October 2019, at Rold, a medium-size enterprise producing innovative components, solutions and platforms for domestic, professional and industrial appliances, an ‘Innovation Plan’ was jointly designed by company and workers’ representatives. The goal, as declared by the actors, was to enhance the involvement of all employees, in order to improve company performance and labour relations. A broad strategy was outlined by providing, in addition to the digitalisation of production lines, training paths for workers aimed at boosting specialised digital skills and improving soft skills to enable the added value of proper relationships and communication. Moreover, the company committed itself to organising workshops and seminars to raise workers’ awareness on shared themes, as well as to implementing a system for collecting workers’ suggestions, in order to bring out possible solutions to problems arising ‘from the bottom’. Lastly, in the Plan a joint labour-management commission was established, provided with rights to monitor and realise proposals for organisational innovation initiatives as well as to determine specific awarenessraising programmes. The Innovation Plan was followed by a collective agreement, signed in November 2019 by the company and workers’ representatives, assisted by the Italian metalworking union FIM-CISL, and focused on establishing a new performance-related pay scheme. Four fields for determining the variable pay’s amount have been identified: company profitability, production effectiveness, quality of results and innovation. Interestingly, with reference to the innovation parameter, the target set for 2020 was the digitalisation of at least 20 production lines, accordingly to what envisioned in the Innovation Plan.
Arbeit 2020 is a project initiated in 2015 in North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany) by the regional structures of IG Metall, IG BCE (a German trade union in mining, chemical, and energy industries) and NGG (a German trade union in food, beverage and catering industry). Its main goal is to enable works councils’ members to bargain over digitalisation in workplaces. To do so, it relies on the partial financing of the regional Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the European Social Fund as well as on the technical support of 2 labour-oriented consultancy firms. More specifically, the project starts when the company declares its willingness, possibly within a preliminary agreement and after meetings with IG Metall unionists and consultants, to pursue a joint development strategy. In the following step, workshops with works councils’ members and interviews with managers and IT experts in the company are held to shed light on the company’s strategy towards innovation. Workshops are then organised with employees by departments to collect insights into the current state of the company and its likeliest future developments. Particularly, 3 topics are addressed: work organisation (with specific regard to the chain of command); technology (with particular emphasis on the level of digital connectedness and the level of self-control of machines); and employment trends, skills and qualification measures and working conditions (in this regard, aspects such as stress and workload are carefully considered). After gathering all the relevant information, IG Metall unionists and consultants outline a ‘Map of digitalisation’ in the company, which highlights the relevant issues at stake and the critical aspects to be tackled. The map is then presented to the works council and management, with the aim of narrowing down pivotal topics (usually related to skills development, work organisation, workers’ data protection, etc.) and enabling the works council to bargain with management over them. Via the signature of a plant-level agreement, the works council thus starts to influence the company’s development plans. The project entered its second phase in 2017 and from 2016 is under the scientific assessment of the Institute of Work, Skills and Training of the University of Duisburg-Essen, within the framework of a further research work funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation (the research institute of the German trade union confederation DGB). This scientific work led to the identification of so-called ‘Agreements for the Future’ (Zukunftsvereinbarungen), signed between works councils and company representatives in some workplaces after the creation of the ‘Map of digitalisation’ and the selection of priority areas. Such agreements tend to be procedural in nature, providing for the establishment of joint working bodies for dealing with priority issues (i.e. workers’ training, working time, data security) and refining them up to when it would be possible to agree on specific actions. In this sense, such agreements have been described as marking the start and not the end of innovation processes.
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Few years ago, the works council of the German pharmaceutical company Merck established a working group on Industry 4.0, with the aim to analyse the impacts of digitalisation at work and the opportunities for workers’ representatives. Such preliminary study led the group to draw the image of a ‘House of the Worlds of Work’, containing all topics, principles and tools supporting the role of works council in codetermining the future of work. The foundation of the House is indeed codetermination and its ground floor is composed of four thematic priorities: education and training; employee data protection, occupational health and safety and human resources development. All these areas are pivotal whenever a digitalisation project is to be implemented. That is why, a joint labour-management committee for each priority area was created at Merck and tasked with signing an ad-hoc works agreement, which outlines, with reference to the specific topic, all the procedural aspects and technical requirements that each digitalisation project has to comply with, before being fully implemented. For instance, as regards employee data processing, the ad-hoc agreement specifies that at the early stage of a digitalisation project, a questionnaire must be submitted to the company manager, with the aim to assess what kind of data will be collected. Moreover, according to the ‘House of the Worlds of Work’, each priority area is to be addressed by the works council with a toolbox, allowing workers’ representatives, for example, to conduct workshops with employees, get targeted training, ask management proper questions and in case of non-satisfying answers, rely on a reference person charged with providing the necessary clarifications. The two walls of the House are made up of two supporting principles for the introduction of any technology: namely, communication and external consultancy, which should indeed empower works council to conduct effective codetermination. A human-centred approach stands at the centre of the image, surrounded by the many forms which digitalisation is taking at Merck, such as remote working, artificial intelligence, virtual teams and so on. Finally, the roof of the House is characterised by the norms, values and culture of the company, which all digitalisation projects should be coherent with. Overall, the codetermination process is strengthened by the ‘House of the Worlds of Work’ conceptualisation, since each works agreement on digitalisation must theoretically fit into the image and its main pillars. Moreover, the works council is no longer in charge of signing works agreements on each specific digital tool, since the four thematic joint committees are tasked with doing so, by also benefitting from the expertise of other workers when necessary. Finally, the local representatives of the chemical trade union IG BCE also play an important role at the company, by supervising the whole process and making sure that the ‘House of the Worlds of Work’ and its principles are concretely applied.

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In Belgium, the national level framework agreement on trade union delegation at workplaces (known as CCT/CAO No. 5) assigns it the right to act on work-related issues. Moreover, the sectoral agreement for the metal industry includes new technologies among the trade union delegation’s areas of competence. Within this institutional framework, at Assenede site of Adient (global leader in automotive seating), blue-collar workers are individually consulted and trained by the company, whenever a new technology is about to be introduced. This practice is backed and monitored by the trade union delegation. Similarly, at CNH Industrial’s site in Zedelgem (centre of excellence for the development of harvesters), every time a production line needs to be renewed, blue-collar workers are consulted and encouraged to give their direct contribution to the adaptation of their specific workstation. Moreover, at Duracell Batteries’ plant in Aarshot, a joint labour-management commission is in force to discuss everyday operative issues as well as more crucial and exceptional ones. Notably, when new technologies potentially affecting jobs are about to be introduced, the members of the commission are involved in developing solutions for favouring, via targeted training, professional mobility paths within the site.