The ETUC calls for an EU digital strategy for Europe that delivers for workers!

On 19 February 2020 the European Commission will announce its strategy for a Europe fit for the digital age.  

The ETUC got reassurance from Commissioner Breton on 10 February that trade unions and workers’ representatives will be part of the solutions shaping a sustainable and socially acceptable digital transition within the EU industrial policy strategy, in particular via an inclusive governance structure.

The Commission rightly considers digitalisation as an enabler for decarbonisation of all sectors to reach climate neutrality by 2050. The electricity consumption from the ICT sector may increase to 10-20% in 2030[1] and e-waste is the fastest growing form of waste. Datacentres, blockchain, 5G/6G technology must become more energy efficient, use renewable energy and become carbon neutral.

The Commission identifies the generation of technology where Europe must take the lead: blockchain, super- and quantum computers, algorithms, data sharing and usage. The circular economy is a core area of actions. Such a European digital lead should be based on a sustainable human-centric approach to innovation and digitalization. It should aim at improving the quality of life, safety and prosperity of Europeans citizens. Only a sound and ambitious regulatory framework can provide a trustworthy AI (lawful, ethical and robust) and an ambitious protection not only for consumers but also for workers: AI at the workplace requires legally binding ethical rules as well as adaptation of liability rules, so as not to develop outside the GDPR.

In all these domains, sustainable and socially acceptable digital transition that makes the EU fit for the digital age, will have to take seriously workers’ and trade unions’ interests and involvement.

Digital age strategy should aim at eradicating inequalities at the workplace: It should trigger better quality jobs, decent working time, healthy working conditions. Digital age strategy should anticipate skills needs and prompt better reskilling and upskilling schemes. All of these are investment in the future, not a cost. The EU Digital age strategy should build on the European social model and it should protect from business models that only deliver precariousness and in work poverty.

The EU digital transition must undoubtedly change the current mode of governance: Workers and trade unions should be properly and timely involved, when new digital technologies are discussed and introduced. Sustainable business should foresee board level representation, and access to public funds should be linked to conditionalities, including negotiation of collective agreements. The EU digital transition must put in place ambitious cohesion policies to invest in public infrastructures in the  most vulnerable regions in priority, develop smart specialisation strategies for targeted regions.

An inclusive industrial governance including European social partners is key to deliver a Europe fit for the digital age, that will not leave anyone behind. It will offer a unique opportunity involve trade unions in the Commission initiatives, when defining a work plan for the successful digitalisation in sectors such as machinery, automotive, construction, creative industries, fashion or beauty products to benefit from an integrated approach,

  • when creating an industrial transition observatory to monitor industry’s progress towards climate-neutrality and circularity,
  • when establishing a permanent high-level governance forum to ensure a continuous dialogue with Member States and industry to identify new strategic value chains where large cross border investment is needed
  • when defining and monitoring "transversal common missions"
  • when launching a task force on the impact of the Internet of Things and edge computing on European industry landscape

The European Union is at the crossroads: its strategy for a Europe fit for the digital age has to deliver for all and provide for a sustainable and socially acceptable digital transition that will leave no one behind. It is high time to speed up! After having consulted for many years (a public consultation on the regulatory environment for platforms, online intermediaries, data and cloud computing and the collaborative economy ran from 24 September 2015 to 6 January 2016) and multiplying expert groups, the Commission has to provide an enabling framework with the necessary safeguards against disproportionate surveillance including facial and emotions recognition technology, against breaches of data protection and privacy, currently rolled out across Europe and global internet multinationals that stay largely unregulated.