After 9 months, European Social Partners concluded their negotiations on an autonomous framework agreement on digitalisation in March 2020. Positively, the negotiations could be concluded in the allocated timeframe, and fortunately just before Europe went into lockdown during the COVID crisis. Following the official adoption procedures took place at each of the organisations, the agreement was officially presented to the EU institutions at the Tripartite Social Summit on 23 June 2020.
The signatories included:
- BusinessEurope; the association of crafts and SMEs in Europe – SMEunited; the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services and Services of general interest – CEEP, from the employers’ side;
- European Trade Union Confederation – ETUC (and the liaison committee composed of the trade union voice of professionals and managers – EUROCADRES and the European Confederation of Executives and Managerial Staff – CEC), from the workers’ side.
This framework agreement is part of the European social partners autonomous activities, allowed by article 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the result of their multiannual work programme for 2019-2021.
The agreement has different objectives, including to provide “an action-oriented framework to encourage, guide and assist employers, workers and their representatives” facing digitalisation, to “encourage a partnership approach between employers, workers and their representatives”; and to “support the development of a human-oriented approach to integration of digital technology in the world of work, to support/assist workers and enhance productivity”.
To achieve its objectives, it presents two interconnected sections:
- 1. An agreed and jointly managed dynamic circular process, as a possible way to implement the agreement whilst respecting the roles and responsibilities of social partners at all levels, and
- 2. The issues that the implementation of the process can benefit, namely,
- Digital skills and securing employment
- Modalities of connecting and disconnecting
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and guaranteeing the human in control principle
- Respect of human dignity and surveillance
The following diagram exemplifies the circular process and issues at stake:
Following an explanation of the process, the framework agreement provides very useful insights on each of the topics. For instance, with regards to digital skills and securing employment, it stresses the shared interest of social partners in “facilitating access to quality and effective training and skills development while respecting the diversity and flexibility of training systems, which vary according to diverse industrial relations practices”. “This entails employers’ commitment to use digital technology positively, seeking to improve innovation and productivity, for the long-term health of enterprises, and for the employment security of the workforce and for better working conditions”, “along with workers’ commitment to support the growth and success of enterprises and to recognise the potential role of digital technology, if enterprises are to remain competitive in the modern world”. It also encourages social partners at the appropriate levels and enterprises to introduce digital transformation strategies to support employment.
Signatories of the agreement are committed to implement the agreement by promoting tools and measures at all relevant levels, adapted to their national situation and industrial relations system. The Social Dialogue Committee, which comprises the European cross-sectoral and national social partners, and is facilitated by the European Commission, will monitor such implementation yearly and, at the fourth year after the signature of the agreement, the European Social partners should adopt a full report on the implementation actions taken or review the best way to implement it at all levels.
Markus J. Beyrer, Director General of BusinessEurope, welcomed the agreement saying it was “negotiated before the crisis, but the crisis showed how relevant this topic is and how big the jump was that we were all doing in digitalisation”. He continued stating that “digitalisation will very much define whether or not we will be successful in the future and there is a lot of opportunities and advantages for employers and employees but of course there are also challenges. Therefore we will need to work together in order to make sure that it becomes mutually beneficial for workers and for employers. It will be crucial to have the right skills available for the digital age in order to keep workers employable and in order to improve the resilience of companies”.
ETUC General Secretary, Luca Visentini, had also positive words on the agreement stating that “Unions and employers at European level have signed an agreement that says digital change should not be imposed by management but managed in partnership with workers and their trade unions. It supports negotiations between unions and employers in each EU country, in different sectors, companies and workplaces”.