Sindicatos y digitalización en Alemania.

AutorHaipeter, Thomas

Trade Unions and Digitalisation in Germany

Summary. 1. Introduction. 2. Digitalisation and trade unions. 3. German trade unions and works councils--trends and developments. 4. Trade unions and Industry 4.0. 4.1. The project "Work 2020" and its goals. 4.2. maps and work-related issues. 4.3. Workplace agreements. 4.4. Participation and trade unions. 5. Gig work. 5.1. Fair Crowd Work. 5.2. Advice for the self-employed. 5.3. Establishing works councils. 6. Conclusions. 7. Bibliographic references.

  1. Introduction

    This paper is about digitalisation and the question of how German trade unions cope with it as a new topic of trade union policy and strategy. How do trade unions in Germany interpret and frame digitalisation? What do the strategies they try to develop in order to improve the situation of workers or their own organisational power and resources look like? What might be the opportunities and limits of these strategies? These issues are of central importance for the German trade unions, as they are facing a long-term decline in organisational power and in collective bargaining coverage. This fact increases the pressure to develop solutions that at the same time are effective in collective bargaining or workplace bargaining--which in Germany is the responsibility of works councils independent from unions--and that improve the power positions of the unions itself.

    The paper will analyse trade union action in two broader areas of the digital economy, which are at the centre of sociological interest on the digitalisation of work in Germany: 'Industry 4.0' and labour platforms. On the one hand, it looks at initiatives of trade unions in the industrial sectors that aim to shape and regulate 'Industry 4.0'. These initiatives are based both on close cooperation with works councils at establishment level and on a social partnership approach with regard to management. On the other hand, the focus is on initiatives by trade unions--and by employees in grass-root campaigns--in the newly emerging field of platform work, in which the trade unions try to establish themselves as interest representatives and to implement the core institutions of German labour relations, works councils and collective bargaining. While in the first case the paper is mainly about aligning the work of existing interest representation structures to digitalisation as a new and central challenge, in the second case it is about establishing themselves and the institutions of labour relations in a new sector of the digital economy.

    The analysis on these two focal points of trade union strategies in dealing with digitalisation is based both on findings from literature and on findings from own research projects, which have been carried out in both fields. Before going into these concrete strategies in more detail, both a short description of the Germany discussion on digitalisation and a brief insight into the initial situation in which the German trade unions--and also works councils as employee representatives on establishment level--find themselves will be given.

  2. Digitalisation and Trade Unions

    The topic of digitalisation has gained central importance in discourse and strategies of the German trade unions since the beginning of the 2010s. Responsible for this was, above all, the concept of 'Industry 4.0', which was jointly developed by scientists and some company managements as a model for the industrial export sector during this time. The vision coupled with this concept, which was thus alarming for the trade unions, was that digitalisation in 'Industry 4.0' would lead to a radical technological break and a 'fourth industrial revolution'. (Arbeitskreis Industrie 4.0, 2012; Spath, 2013). The assumption is that 'cyber-physical systems' will develop which are described as encompassing networks of machines, products and people, driven by software and enabled through sensors and the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI has become a core issue of the discussion in German labour sociology in terms of its potentials and limits (Hirsch-Kreinsen, 2022), as well as the possibilities of a socio-technical design to combine AI and human labour in work systems (Gerst, 2019). Besides this, Industry 4.0' has also embraced discussion of new forms of robotics (Gerst, 2016) or digital assistant systems (Kuhlmann, 2018; Krzywdzinski, 2022; Falkenberg, 2021). Major transformations, such as those associated with digitalisation, are necessarily accompanied by profound challenges for work, employment and working conditions, but also for the way employee interests are represented.

    If digitalisation will trigger a reduction in industrial employment or the undermining of agreed pay and conditions, then the organisational power and, maybe, the survival of trade unions seems to be at risk. As the manufacturing sector traditionally has been--and still is--the stronghold of trade unionism in Germany--with a trade union density of nearly 60% in the metalworking industry for example (Schroeder and Fuchs 2019)--this would affect the whole German system of labour relations. A serious loss of members due to a decline in the number of employees would undermine their membership base, and their image as successful collective bargaining actors seems to be acutely endangered. Digitalisation might also fuel the ongoing change of the composition of the workforce in favour of white collar employees which are much more difficult for the unions to organise than their traditional blue collar membership base (Haipeter 2016). Coping with 'Industry 4.0' for the unions also means to cooperate with the works councils as the interest representation of employees on the workplace level which can dispose of legal rights of information, consultation and participation and which are formally independent from the trade unions--although they are in fact quite highly organised by the unions. According to surveys, 40% of the works councils are looking for the support of trade unions or other forms of advice to deal with digitalisation (Ahlers 2018), and 65% of the works councils have become active to deal with this issue after they were educated by the trade unions (Lins et al. 2018). These figures show that the interaction between trade unions and works councils might be crucial for the latter to cope with the challenges of digitalisation.

    However, the perception of the trade unions did not only focus on the vision of 'Industry 4.0'. More or less parallel to this, the gig economy and the problem of crowdworking also came into view as a central development of digitalisation. At first glance, the quantitative dimension of the phenomenon in terms of the number of employees affected by this development up to now is far from being clear, but the figures reported are rather low. According to different surveys made on the topic, the share of platform workers among the adult population ranges between 1 and 12% and the share of those doing this regularly between less an 1% and less than 6%, with the share of workers doing location-based services--gig working--being bigger than the share of workers doing online work--cloudworking--for the platforms (Hünefeld et al. 2021). Within the gig working part, the highest share of workers works in household services, followed by taxis and delivery services. Within the group of cloudworkers two types of platforms are distinguished, the microtask platforms like Amazon Turk on the one and the platforms offering qualified work like designing on the other hand (Funke and Picot 2021).

    The findings on work and working conditions on labour platforms in Germany show that platform work is mostly a secondary source of income. According to Serfling (2019), over 40% of platform workers work less than 10 hours per week and over 60% less than 30 hours per week on platforms; the share of full-time platform workers is just under 40%. However, in the platform worker survey by Baethge et al. (2019), only 20% of online workers and 8% of on location workers spend more than ten hours per week on platform work. Accordingly, the average working time for platform work is 7.5 hours for online and 4.6 hours for on location work. Concerning wages, according to Bonin and Rinne (2017), the share of platform workers who earn their main income from platform work is around 50% for on location work, and significantly lower for online workers. The survey by Baethge et al. (2019) shows much lower values; according to this, only 19% of online and 14% of on location workers earn more than 800 [euro] per month with platform work; a total of 56% use platforms to earn up to an additional 400 [euro] per month. The study by Serfling (2019) also confirms the dominance of additional earnings; according to this study, platform work is the main source of income for only 26% of respondents. In line with these findings, most studies conclude that platform work in Germany is predominantly part-time and marginal employment that complements other forms of income (Pongratz, 2019). According to the study by Serfling (2019), the share of self-employed among platform workers is about 28%, just under 25% define themselves as full-time employees and 5% as part-time employees. The rest of the workforce consists of unemployed (12.6%), retired (18.4%) and students (7%). According to Bonin and Rinne (2017), 56% of platform workers perform simple tasks, 28% perform tasks that require expertise, and 16% of workers perform both.

    Findings on the platforms themselves in Germany are rare. The international project Fairwork evaluated ten platforms in Germany in 2020 (Fairwork, 2021). According to this study all platforms were able to demonstrate paying at least the legal minimum wage; all platforms presented terms and conditions in an easily accessible and transparent manner; seven platforms provided support for fair working conditions in the form of health and safety protection policies; only half of the platforms had...

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