Digitalising workplace relations

Digital technology can change how employers and work collectives communicate. [Per-Olof Forsberg/Flickr]

If managed correctly, the increasing use of digital technology in the workplace could help bring workers together and strengthen their role within businesses. Our partner La Tribune reports.

To consider the case for the universal basic income, to create a specific status and provide social protection for the “economically dependent self-employed”, to promote career transitions… These are just three of the 20 or so recommendations of the French Digital Council (CCNum) for adapting the French economy to the challenges of increasing digitalisation in its report entitled Work, employment, digital: new directions, presented to France’s Minister of Labour Myriam El Khomri on Wednesday (6 January).

This comprehensive report examined how social dialogue within businesses is affected by the evolution of digital technology.

>>Read: Moedas: Europe’s industries have to go digital

For the report’s authors, “digital technology can be used to create work collectives and is not necessarily a cause of increased fragmentation”. Quite the contrary, according to the CCNum: digital technology could revitalise the social dialogue and revive the “direct expression” of employees.

Consultation ahead of negotiations

The report supposes that a process of employee consultation could be started ahead of companies’ annual or triannual negotiation cycles, in order to collect the opinions of the whole workforce on the negotiations’ objectives.

In this consultation process, the report’s authors see “a way for union representatives to increase their visibility and to establish their legitimacy outside the realm of professional elections”.

They believe “new collectives” should be brought into the social dialogue. These collectives may not represent employees in the same way that unions can, and they may not have a place at the table during negotiations with executives, but exploring alternative means of participation for the workforce would help close the gap between employees and their representatives.

Digitalising the unions

Another recommendation of the report was that all workers’ representatives receive digital training, and that union information be disbursed electronically, instead of on the old fashioned noticeboards that are still widely used.

>>Read: How can Europe bridge its digital divide?

This modal shift would be achieved by giving union representatives privileged access to companies’ email and intranet systems, to ensure that information is available to all who want it, and to encourage interaction between employees and management.

But while these proposals certainly present some interesting possibilities, they are unlikely to be adopted by a French government that is reluctant to burden businesses with any regulation that may harm their competitiveness.

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