Digital Transformation and Social Dialogue in Urban Public Transport in Europe – Final Conference

22 Oct 2020

On October 15, European Urban Public Transport Social Partners held the final conference of their joint project ‘Digital Transformation and Social Dialogue in Urban Public Transport in Europe’.

The project’s objective is to understand the expected impact of digital transformation on work, especially on employment, working conditions, tasks, skills and social dialogue to shape the digital transformation by anticipating, preparing and managing changes in the sector and the workplace. The final report of the joint project is available here.

To do so, ETF and UITP, with the support of wmp Consult and EVA Academy, have collected information about the relevant developments of the digital transformation in the sector in the areas of customer services, operations, maintenance and HR management and work organisation. Based on this research, ETF and UITP are negotiating joint recommendations on developing principles regarding the introduction of new technologies and social dialogue.

Discussions during the final conference revolved around the presentation of the research results and the future joint recommendations of ETF and UITP. Various representatives of the European institutions, public transport companies, trade unions and researchers spoke and shared their experiences and insights with the audience.

The conference was opened by keynote speakers, Klara Dobrev, Vice President of the European Parliament, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and Barbara Kauffman, Director Employment and Social Governance, General Directorate Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission.

Klara Dobrev stressed the importance of strong trade unions for democracy as well as the importance of public transport workers during COVID-19 as key workers and thanked them for their commitment under dangerous conditions.

Barbara Kauffman highlighted the importance of social dialogue and that experiences during COVID-19 have shown that countries with strong social partners and a well-functioning social dialogue are more resilient in crisis and recover faster.

Brigitte Ollier of UITP stressed the importance of an inclusive and participatory approach to the digital transformation is key for success, and that the UPT sector will be different after COVID-19 and raised that it has accelerated digitalisation, making our project timely.

Sabine Trier, ETF Deputy General Secretary and Political Secretary for UTP underlined that from a trade union point of view, digital transformation can only be successful if workers and trade unions are on board. A participatory, inclusive approach through social dialogue is key, and it is in the interest of both sides to engage in this approach. When workers are not included in decisions on the investment in new technology from the very beginning, then the design can fail to take into consideration the reality of the working situation, and how the organisation of work must be adapted to certain technologies. Participation also means that workers should get a share of the gains due to productivity increase and the potential savings either by reduced working time or increased wages or both.

Sabine Trier highlighted that just transition is not only a trade union issue but recognised at European level as the right approach to achieve sustainable transport and a successful greening of the economy as well as a fair digitalisation. New technologies need to improve working conditions, be used for better work-life balance, and there is a need for right skills and training in companies. In this sense, she stressed that future joint recommendations must include topics such as the health and safety impact of digitalisation, such as the overburden of information, permanent availability, and the right to disconnect. Data protection to ensure that the use of data is not abused and the dignity of the worker is respected must also be part of the process.

The contributions from participants gave much food for thought, and the ETF is motivated to agree on strong joint recommendations that take into account the needs of our workers and promote real just transition.