– Digitalisation emerged new ways of organising work, effecting industrial relations systems and collective bargaining models;
– New technologies enable more autonomy and flexibility in terms of time and space. Ultimately leading to benefits for both employees and employers;
– Companies have to become more innovative in managing work and develop new management styles better adapted to a digitalised world of work;
– The autonomy of the parties who conclude tailor-made solutions that fit the local context must be respected by legislators;
– Excessive as well as inconsiderate regulatory intervention is an obstacle for companies to adopt tailor-made solutions in a digitalised context.
The work models we see in the manufacturing and technology-based industries today have evolved out of work practices built for the industry of the past. The increased digitalisation of industry has progressively started to challenge those work models and management styles. They do not always fit with modern production requirements and employee needs. And thus impact the traditional relationship between the employer and the employee.
As boundaries go from general and defined to more blurred and individual, work organisation needs to adapt. In terms of flexibilisation: production, working time and workplaces are opening up to new forms of employment which are beneficial for both employers and employees.
At the same time, employees, who to a lesser extent than before, are required to be present in a physical work environment or at specific hours, become responsible for defining and communicating their own boundaries. To support EU businesses’ competitiveness in a digital global economy with global value chains, national and European level working time and employment regulations must be sufficiently agile. To keep up with changing parameters, finding tailor-made solutions that fit the local context will become more and more important. Therefore, Ceemet strongly promotes representative and autonomous social partnership at company and sector level.
Flexible working hours
The growing demand for more time flexibility is driven by both companies as well as employees. It offers new possibilities for improving work-life balance and further enhancing equal opportunities. These developments require an adjustment of the existing framework of legislation, collective agreements and/or individual contracts that governs work organisation.
A balance must be created between time autonomy and operational concerns. This can best be achieved jointly, between employer and employee, considering the employee’s requests, as far as possible, while always respecting the operational concerns and needs of the company.
Digitalisation and flexible ways of carrying out work make the lines between work and private life more fluid. This, if not managed appropriately, can lead to a (perceived) work intensification and/or to the possibility of being reachable all the time. In some countries, this issue has already successfully been dealt with by social partners.
The Proposal for a Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive allows employees to only work within predetermined reference hours and only if informed a reasonable period in advance, thereby hindering flexibility and thus competitiveness of companies. To correspond with economic and social realities, decisions regarding working time must be taken at sectoral or company level.
Digitalisation increased the possibility to work online, allowing employees to work outside the physical location of a “company”. As with flexible working time, workplace flexibility offers people an option to improve their work-life balance and to advance equal opportunities in the process. This is evidenced by the gradual increase in demand for this option. Even if workplace flexibility is possible, a functioning sequence of operations must always be assured, and the workplace must be chosen accordingly, i.e. in a way that serves this purpose. Therefore, it is up to the company to take decisions about “flexible workplaces”, while considering employee requests.
Flexible forms of employment and definition of ‘employee’
Flexible workforce is one of the most important competitiveness factors for European industry.
Open-ended contracts represent the majority in the manufacturing and technology-based industries. Flexible forms of employment however, allow employers a margin to deal with fluctuations in demand and adding rightly skilled workers for periods when orders diverge from ‘normal’. schools would be the most efficient way to increase digital skills.
As with flexible working time and work places, employers are looking for more flexible forms of employment while employees are increasingly asking for flexibility.
This opens up the field in recruitment and composition of the workforce. Cooperation between internal staff and external specialists in mixed teams with changing composition for specific activities are already a reality today.
However, work developed within virtual teams across borders for the same or between companies (i.e. independent professionals, crowd working etc.) raises questions about integration, remote leadership and supervision.
These issues need to be addressed to make European labour markets fit for purpose. Overregulation in this field will be detrimental.
EU-level legislative proposals, following the EPSR, hinders companies to provide flexible work arrangements, obstructing the creation of new work models arising from the digital reality. The definition of a ‘worker’, as proposed by the Commission, is extremely problematic. This broad definition impacts the use of flexible forms of employment and thus fails to support the needs of companies in a digitalised economy.
Industrial relations are characterised by many different models across Europe. Collective bargaining systemsplay a prominent role in finding a tailor-made solution determining working conditions and regulating the employment relationship.
These systems do not operate in a vacuum and are not immune to change. E.g. the emergence of the platform economy raises questions about coverage and national boundaries since the “new actors” of the platform economy are not represented by the traditional social partners.
State intervention should only be used when necessary; i.e. to support the parties to collective agreements and to maintain social partnership. In the same line, increasing EU intervention through the European Semester to influence on wage-setting mechanisms must be avoided.
Strong and representative social partners are best placed to deal with challenges and bargain around new issues that emerge to shape the future of work.
Facts & figures for collective bargaining
Assolombarda has initiated the set up a working group within the Council of the metal, engineering and technology-based industries. The aim was that companies would identify and agree what indicators linked to digitisation can be used in the context of company-level bargaining on performance bonuses.
The Digital Economy & Society Index (DESI) – developed by the European Commission – evaluating the progress of the Member States towards a digital economy and society, is based on 5 points. The working group has identified 5 points symmetrical to DESI, being:
1. Connectivity & Digital Security: network optimization;
2. Human Capital: HR, skills, spreading digital culture;
3. IoT: connected workflow, digital enterprise, online services;
4. Integration of Digital Technology: process digitalisation & improvement, implementation of service engineering;
5. Digitalisation of Support Functions: open data.
By using this indicator, social partners can measure with the same and quantifiable parameters. This allows to compare the evolution of different companies belonging to the same productive sector.
Autonomous social partners and collective bargaining needs to be complemented by:
a — the possibility by labour law to deviate from specific provisions/regulations in order to protect existing collective agreements or to allow and promote new ones.
b — (sectoral) collective agreements that also provide “scape valves/opening clauses” that leave enough room for manoeuvre for the social partners to agree and encourage customised agreements.
Responding to needs of an agile labour market
Teknologiateollisuus, the Technology Industries of Finland employers’ organisation, reached an agreement on joint guidelines with white collar trade unions on telecommuting. This agreement was first deployed for the IT specific sector and has now been extended to the manufacturing and technology-based industries.
Although the joint guidelines are voluntary guidelines and not provisions, it remains a crucial step. It shows that social partners acknowledge the benefits digitalisation brings to modern, productivity-enhancing working hours. With these new ways of working social partners recognize and respond to the changing needs of an agile labour market. Using their autonomy to experiment will eventually lead to models that are an answer to the sector specific needs.
Companies in the tech and industry sector in Finland have now the possibility to use these joint guidelines and templates when agreeing on remote working or so called “tele-working”.