Digital change already today has an impact on the design of our working environment, from flexible working conditions to the automation of routine work. This trend will continue to intensify in the coming years. But which developments are likely to occur and how to shape the future for the benefit of employees and companies alike?
These questions were discussed by about 50 participants from science, social partners and EU-institutions on 1 June 2017, at the first joint roundtable by the ETUI and the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln) under the title „The Future of Work – Challenges for Social Partners and Legislators“.
Philippe Pochet, Director General of ETUI, and Hans-Peter Klös, managing Director of IW, opened the conference with their introductory remarks on work-life balance and social protection systems.
In the first panel, Agnieszka Piasna, researcher at the ETUI, and Sandra Vogel, researcher at IW, presented current findings on working time. Antje Gerstein, managing director of the Brussels office of the German Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA), and Yvonne Lott, researcher at the Hans Böckler-Foundation, commented against the background of their scientific and hands-on expertise respectively.
The dual perspective of employees and companies highlighted the ambivalence of increasing flexibility due to advanced technology. On the credit side working conditions for employees could be characterized by greater autonomy, time sovereignty and result orientation, on the debit side securing equal access to flexible working models for employees as well as guaranteeing working time protection and remuneration corresponding to the work performed are crucial. Both sides seemed to agree that the unpredictibility aspect of flexible working hours needs to be tackled as it can have destructive consequences for the health of the employee. There is also a considerable difference in the outcomes of flexible working time for different kinds of workers (e.g. managers vs 0 hour contract) and also for men and women (the latter doing much more often flexible work).
In the second panel, Oliver Stettes from the IW and Maria Jepsen from the ETUI presented empirical results on the development of employment and social security systems. Thiébaut Weber, confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Rebekah Smith, from the European employers and business association BusinessEurope, and Ana Carla Pereira, Head of Unit of Modernization of Social Protection Systems at the DirectorateGeneral for Employment of the EU Commission, evaluated the results of the presentations.
The speakers agreed that other developments such as globalisation, demographic challenges and climate change will also impact greatly the future of work and the financing of social protection, and digitization is only one of the factors to look at. The focus on "tasks" rather than "jobs" was seen as an important challenge when assessing employment effects of digitization. There was disagreement with regard to using job satisfaction as an indicator for the quality of work, and on the need for additional social protection triggered by digitization, such as a social insurance obligation for the self-employed. The debate demonstrated clearly that more research is necessary regarding the new forms of employment, e.g. gig-workers.
You can download the presentations from the roundtable here