Digitalisation: challenges and perspectives for labour law

AutorManfred Weiss
Cargo del AutorCatedrático Emérito de la Universidad de Goethe. Alemania

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I Introduction

The information society to a bigger and bigger extend is characterized by technology driven forms of work. This leads to de-localisation (work can be conducted from anywhere, not necessarily from a predetermined workplace) and to globalisation of production processes. Traditional working time patterns are becoming less relevant. To a bigger and bigger extent not the presence at the workplace counts but the result to be produced in a certain period. Clear-cut hierarchical structures are more and more replaced by workers' autonomy in order to promote creativity and innovation. This new autonomy is ambigous; it implies the danger of self exploitation. Control possibilities increase dramatically by wearables (chips, glasses, wristbands, etc.). Sample analyses combined with big data can reveal comprehensive information about every worker (in particular performance cycles, etc.). The demarcation line between work and private life is more and more falling apart which has significant impacts on family life, on health and safety of workers and their family members and on the well-being of the society as a whole. These are only a few aspects which come to mind when confronted with digital work. A closer look on two developments may further illustrate the huge variety of this new world of work.

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The first is discussed under the label "Industry 4.0" which stands for the fourth industrial revolution. In order to understand the notion "fourth industrial revolution", it might be helpful to recall the three preceding ones. It is common knowledge that thefirst industrial revolution in the 19th century improved the efficiency of production of goods through the use of hydropower, the increasing use of steam power and the developments of machine tools. The second industrial revolution is linked to the introduction of electricity, of mass production and the use of assembly lines. The third more recent one is based on accelerated automation by the use of electronics and information technologies. The fourth technological revolution is characterized by the fact that physical objects are being integrated into the information network. This means that the internet is combining with intelligent machines, systems production and processes to form a sophisticated network. Or to put it differently: The real world is turning into a huge information system which is the result of consistent digitalisation and linking of all productive units in an economy. Robots become intelligent, which means able to adapt, communicate and interact. Smart robots and humans work hand in hand on interlinking tasks and using smart human-machine interfaces. The use of robots is widening including various functions in production, logistics or office management. It is important to stress that these functions can be controlled remotely. If a problem occurs, the worker receives a message on the mobile phone, with link to a web cam, so he or she can see the problems and give instructions to let the production continue.

The second pattern to be taken as an example of technology-driven forms of work is crowd sourcing. This is a relatively new but already quite widespread form of outsourcing which uses an online platform to enable organisations or individuals to solve specific problems or to provide specific products in exchange for payment. Or to put it differently: Crowdsourcing is a socio-technical work system constituted through a set of relationships that connect organisations, individuals, technologies and work activities. The crowd-sourcer launches a call or competition on an online platform, gathers proposals from the crowd and evaluates the proposals to select the proposal deemed most suitable for the intended purpose. Normally an unlimited amount of crowd workers have access to the online platform and can participate producing proposals. Some platforms, however, require some minimum conditions as for example at least 18 years of age. Crowd sourcing is not suitable for all kind of tasks, but some part of almost any project can be performed by crowd sourcing. Normally larger tasks in a complex project are subdivided into smaller tasks, so called micro-tasks. Micro tasks tend to be trivial in nature, require only low skills and hence are not very rewarding in work content. But crowd workers can also be engaged for complex projects, so called macro-tasks, normally requiring a higher skill level. There is no homogeneous pattern, neither for the process of operating nor for the tasks to

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be fulfilled. In general, the platform acts as an intermediary, but does not become directly involved in the business between the crowd-sourcer and the crowd-worker. Quite often there is no formal contract between the client and the worker. Work is transformed into a commodity that gets exchanged in a global virtual world without any legal or regulatory framework. Crowd working falls outside of everything we know so far. There is a group of people working in splendid isolation, not really fitting into the pattern of the traditional self-employed, but exposed to all kind of risks, of exploitation and of self-exploitation. It benefits businesses that find cheap labour on the internet with no employer responsibilities in exchange. Access to work is not continuous or regular. Work is not always paid for most of the time only if the crowd- sourcers are satisfied with the results.

In short and to make the point: Digitalisation of working patterns has many faces, it is not to be conceived as a uniform and homogeneous phenomenon. Many details are still rather unclear. But undoubtedly it means a...

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