No Automation & Digitalisation without Negotiation!

The world of transport is constantly evolving and each time, transport workers have adapted to these changes by learning new skills. The most recent developments in digitalisation and automation are changing the world of work as we know it and shaping the transport industry.

If we look at past developments, it is clear that workers and their unions must be involved in the processes that implement technological developments to ensure that they are fair and that no worker is left behind.

What do we mean by digitalisation and automation?

Automation means that work previously done by people is undertaken by machines, while digitalisation is the widespread use of digital (computer) technology. As part of the so-called 4th industrial revolution, these two processes are affecting the world of work immensely. European Trade Union Institute has identified that the effects will be diverse, and can result in:

  • creation of new jobs and sectors,
  • change in how workers and machines interact in existing jobs,
  • destruction of jobs that can be completely automated, and
  • relocation of some jobs between different geographies, supported by the use of new technologies.

These changes are not to be underestimated, and trade unions need to have a critical role in ensuring that workers are not left behind.

Indeed, trade unions play a critical role in ensuring that Digitalisation and Automation are not used for:

  • Union busting;
  • Driving down working conditions;
  • Banishing collective bargaining;
  • Relocating remote-controlled operations to other countries.

Impact on the transport sector

These new technological changes will inevitably transform the nature of transport work.

Existing and expected changes differ from sector to sector, but none of the transport modes are left untouched.

On the one hand, we have seen evidence of new technologies enabling better working conditions, giving more flexibility to workers and improving occupational health and safety.

On the other hand, digitalisation and automation have also created a set of new challenges to deal with in transport.

We already see evidence of technologies eliminating certain jobs or lowering the number of workers needed to perform specific tasks, spurring the development of the platform economy, and offering employers new ways for surveilling their workers.

Role of transport unions

While technological change is often presented in very neutral terms, it does have very real effects on the lives of workers. It influences the nature and number of jobs, the tasks, the organisation of work, and so much more.

Not all workers can be retrained to carry out new jobs, and with the pension age increasing everywhere, this is especially true for older workers.  Ensuring a fair transition is of the utmost importance, and unions play a key role in preparing for the future. From the very beginning, workers and their representative unions must be involved in the discussions on the why, when and how of the implementation of any technological change. Collective bargaining agreements are key tools to successfully deal with these changes.

As trade unions, we work to ensure that digitalisation and automation put humans at the centre of the process. We are guided by the principle that the benefits of technological change need to be shared by all. We consider the effects of technological change on societies as a whole, on social security systems, on tax revenues, on neighbourhoods, on families, on workers.

In practice, this means that:

  • We inform our members and share best practices to prepare them for the transition ahead;
  • We commit to inserting automation clauses in Collective Bargaining Agreements;
  • We develop organising strategies;
  • We protect jobs so that the security of workers and passengers is ensured;
  • We fight for training opportunities that help workers move to new jobs;
  • We encourage the introduction of technologies that increase the health and safety of workers;
  • We call out companies that use technological change to attack workers’ rights;
  • We call for transparency, accountability and responsibility of companies;
  • We appeal to governments to find long-term societal solutions that ensure that the benefits are shared by all.

Recently, on a cross-sectoral level, the ETUC, of which ETF is an active member, signed a European Social Partners Framework Agreement on Digitalisation to support the successful digital transformation of Europe’s economy and to manage its large implications for labour markets, the world of work and society at large.

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