Addressing digital and technological change through social dialogue

30 January 2017
Vogel, Sandra


Evidence from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Spain reveals that social partners are closely involved in setting up national strategies to manage digital change in the world of work. Up to now, this has been a high-level affair and there are only a few collective agreements orRead more

Evidence from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Spain reveals that social partners are closely involved in setting up national strategies to manage digital change in the world of work. Up to now, this has been a high-level affair and there are only a few collective agreements or company agreements on the issue in these five countries.


The aim of this topical update is to capture developments and debates in the policy framework that is being set up at national level to address the digital challenges and the implementation of new technologies and map their impact on business, employment and working conditions. It looks at whether and, if so, how national governments and social partners have set out to develop action plans and implement change at sectoral and company level. To gain an initial insight, it focuses on five countries: the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Spain.

For the purpose of this article and to arrive at a common understanding, the concept of digitalisation (or digitisation) is defined as follows: 

When applied to specific pieces of information, digitalisation (or digitisation) refers to the process of converting them into a digital form that can be processed by a computer. When applied to social systems or organisations, it refers in a broad way to the transformation brought about by the widespread adoption of digital technologies.

​Another key concept is ‘Industry 4.0’, widely regarded as the fourth and next phase in the digitisation of the manufacturing sector: it is the term given to production processes with fully integrated automated facilities which communicate with one another.

Digital Economy and Society Index

The five countries under review are representative of the full range of the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). DESI was set up to monitor the progress of Member States in dealing with the digital economy and its effect on society. It is a composite index covering five dimensions:

  • connectivity;
  • human capital;
  • use of the internet;
  • integration of digital technology;
  • integration of digital public services.

The latest results for 2016 indicate that Denmark leads the DESI ranking with an overall score of 0.68 points (on a scale from 0 to 1). Germany is in ninth place (0.57 points), Spain in 15th (0.52 points), and the Czech Republic in 17th (0.5 points), while Italy, with a score of 0.4, ranks 25th out of the EU28 Member States.

However, DESI provides only a pointer to the progress made in individual Member States. As an aggregate index, it was not set up to probe deeper into the different starting conditions of single regions in European countries and their abilities to participate in digital and technological change. Moreover, the index does not provide a deeper insight into the impact of digitalisation on the labour market, labour law, employment levels, working conditions or other related aspects. Research and analysis from the national level are needed to complement the picture.

Overview of digital opportunities and challenges

Osborne and Frey’s 2013 study on the impact of computerisation on employment levels (PDF) in the USA, which argued that nearly 50% of jobs were at risk in the next 10–20 years, has figured largely in academic debate, but also in the public one. Subsequent adapted calculations carried out for Europe estimated that 40%–60% of EU jobs are at risk from automation, with medium-skilled jobs considered most at risk.

While the fear that technological change will negatively affect employment levels is not new, the pace of technological progress is regarded as the real challenge. Nonetheless, within the five countries studied, governments and the social partners have stated that digital change provides many potential opportunities for new business models, productivity gains and enforced economic growth.

On the positive side, workers in physically demanding or routine jobs could be relieved or supported by new generations of robots, whether in the automotive industry or in the care sector. While the tasks and occupational profiles of employees around Europe are subject to change, this does not necessarily have to lead to a complete loss of whole professions and job cuts. Qualifying workers for future jobs is of paramount importance in this context.

Digitalisation, with its opportunities for people to work away from the workplace, including at home, provides new opportunities to organise work and family life. This could represent not only a saving in labour costs, but also in the costs for consequential damages for companies and society could be saved (for example, fewer days lost due to an inability to work, longer working lives due to less strenuous working conditions, reduced spending in the health and care sector). Countries with current or imminent labour shortages could offset unfavourable demographic development by greater use of fully automated or digitalised processes.

Eurofound’s forthcoming report, published jointly with the ILO – Working anytime, anywhere and its effects on the world of work – examines the positive and negative effects of telework and ICT-mobile work on the world of work, based on research in 15 countries and data from the sixth European Working Conditions Survey.

The challenges and opportunities of technological progress are outlined in the next sections.

Potential risk to employees, skills and working conditions 

Overall, it is hard at present to give reliable figures on how many jobs might be lost due to digitalisation. Although a growing amount of literature is available on the subject, the results are very inconsistent due to different methodological approaches and ways of calculating. Trade unions in all five studied countries have voiced their fears of job losses (especially for low-skilled and medium-skilled workers) and of a mismatch in qualifications between the workforce and the available jobs.

Although it remains unclear how many jobs will become obsolete and how many new job profiles will arise, research nonetheless points to the disruptive impact of digital technologies on the structure and content of job skills. While OECD research stresses that not all tasks can be easily digitalised or automated – even in highly threatened occupations  digitalisation nonetheless affects jobs in all the industrial sectors and professions, and this is expected to intensify.

Today a mismatch between skill demand and supply can already be seen in certain countries and sectors – especially in information and communication technologies (ICT) or the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Because of this mismatch, companies looking for specialised professionals cannot fill vacancies and are, in many cases, forced to seek employees in other countries (as is the case in Germany). Different concerns arise in the Czech Republic where various stakeholders, especially trade unions, fear that foreign owners of companies will not want to invest in expensive technology and in retraining employees, preferring instead to exploit the country’s cheap labour force.

However, reinforced education and training is usually cited as a means to keep up employment levels. If retraining or re-employment fails, the result could be rising income inequality and social disparities or barriers.

Another topic in the national debates, also highlighted by Eurofound, relates to:

  • the possible erosion of working time standards, blurring the traditional boundaries between working time and free time;
  • increasing pressure on employees to be constantly available, leading to higher stress levels;
  • lowering of occupational health and safety standards;
  • possible negative effects on employees’ working conditions.

New forms of employment, for example within the platform economy (also called by some the ‘shared economy’), are also largely criticised by unions for eroding national labour standards and ignoring sectoral industrial arrangements. For example, the taxi company Uber came relatively late to Denmark (in November 2014) and has since been the focal point of a debate about the platform economy. Some Uber drivers were found guilty of ‘illegal taxi driving’. The unions are trying to ensure that Uber follows Danish labour market rules, including paying tax, which stipulate that Uber gives information on its drivers to the tax authority. However Uber does not perceive itself as an employer but as a digital platform. Consequently, it claims that its drivers are self-employed and should take care of their own tax information.

Policies supporting businesses and economic change

Opening up new markets and business opportunities, encouraging (renewed) economic growth, improved goods and services, and public welfare are all at the heart of the fourth industrial revolution. However, as the analysis from the studied countries show, much needs to be done for companies – especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – if they are to benefit from or even lead the new developments.

Broadly speaking, there are concerns about the readiness of companies and whole industries to meet the digital challenge. Only 38% of Spanish companies have a formalised digital strategy (PDF) and  just 37% of German companies have such a strategy (PDF). But according to the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI), only a quarter of Danish companies do not have a clear focus on digital change DI has looked at how member companies make use (or not) of digitalisation or advanced technology (PDF), including for instance ‘the internet of things’ and/or the social media. DI concludes that SMEs (those with fewer than 100 employees) are more likely to use digital solutions in marketing, while large companies use new technology to automate core processes and to improve the link between processes and customer needs. In addition, SMEs do not have the same digital expectations as large companies. Large companies tend to focus more on disruption – ‘radical technological innovation’ – which creates a new market or completely changes an existing market. Netflix is an often quoted example of this. Through its streaming model, it ousted the video rental service company Blockbuster from the market. According to DI, Danish companies are some way from achieving 'radical technological innovation’ through digitalisation. For 55% of the companies, disruption is only to a low degree, or not at all, a focus area; and only 14% focus to a high or very high degree on disruption.

The Italian government is looking into funding new business models, research and development (R&D) investments (especially for SMEs) and the need for updated legislation in many fields. It wants to encourage companies to come up with new ideas, including digital innovation, and thus produce wealth for the country. It hopes to focus on training and research by giving tax credits to companies of all legal forms and sizes, including innovative start-ups. With this in mind, the government has started Industry 4.0 projects which aim to:

  • update the R&D sector;
  • encourage more start-ups and develop regulations for them;
  • adopt rules on communications infrastructure.

In addition, the Italian Agency for Digital Development (AgID) is tasked with ensuring the attainment of the goals set out in the European Digital Agenda.

In Germany, the Federal government is developing its high-tech strategy. Six core priority areas have been identified, among them the development of the digital society economy. Overall, the strategy aims to:

  • translate good ideas quickly into innovative products and services;
  • safeguard and enhance German prosperity;
  • strengthen the country’s position as a leading industrial and exporting nation;
  • solve challenging problems (such as sustainable urban development or individualised medical care).

In the Czech Republic, there are concerns that the general infrastructure is not developed enough for the implementation of Industry 4.0 and also about the low level of awareness among companies themselves (although employer associations are trying to educate their members in this respect). Moreover, the lack of interdisciplinarity, a quality essential in approaching a new era of digitalisation, can be seen in the continued strict separation of the secondary sector (manufacturing) and the tertiary sector (services).

In the Czech Republic, the digital agenda and its strategies are new. The most important overarching government strategy in this field is the Action Plan for the Development of the Digital Market. This plan has been set out in more detail in the Strategy for Digital Literacy 2015–2020 and the Strategy for Digital Education 2015–2020. The next task will be to implement these strategies. All important documents and national strategies related to the digitalisation of the Czech economy state that a key to this, is the transformation of the Czech educational system. In September 2016, the Czech National Coalition for Digital Jobs was established (as announced in the Strategy for Digital Education 2015–2020). The coalition’s main objective is to regulate cooperation between the public and private sector, academia and other partners in digital education. There are also plans that, in schools, the government will:

  • fund the implementation of courses on digital skills;
  • provide positions for ICT mediators and IT equipment.

Moreover, legislative changes are expected to emerge as fast as possible. According to Tomáš Prouza, the government officer for the digital economy it is necessary to accommodate the dynamics of the digital economy within the legislative framework.

Views of unions and employer organisations

Changes for employer organisations and unions are also possible. In the Czech Republic, unions are aware that technological change cannot be stopped. Šulc (2016) suggests that unions will be required to integrate the necessity for e-communication and e-organisation into their own structures.

In Spain, a report on digitalisation (PDF) by the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (CCOO) assumes that digitalisation will also affect:

  • the role of the trade unions;
  • relations between workers and employers;
  • working time and spaces;
  • outsourcing of activities.

There is much uncertainty, and CCOO advises trade unions to anticipate possible negative effects and act accordingly. In September 2016, it set up the working group Digitalisation and Industry 4.0, to analyse the impacts of digitalisation.

In Germany, the debate also relates to co-determination rights. While employers do not see any need to change the current legislation, unions are demanding more employee participation, with improvements to the rights of works councils and more say in any accompanying change processes.

Social partner involvement in the digital revolution

Governments and social partners in all five countries have set out to meet the challenges imposed by digital and technological change.

The governments in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Spain have all formulated action plans and strategies, or updated their industrial policies and related legislation.  In June 2016, an Industry 4.0 Commission was established in Denmark and its mandate is to bring forward recommendations about digital technologies, robots, etc. The preparation of action plans or roadmaps has been a high-level affair, often with the government or a ministry taking the lead. Social partners have been involved, to differing degrees, in formulating such plans. Their ideas have not necessarily been implemented, as the topic is often regarded as a very new one. In addition, digital change relates to many different areas; not only to companies and the labour market, but also to:

  • investing into future industries and accompanying infrastructure at a national scale (industrial policy);
  • societal issues (education, demography and an ageing society);
  • legal issues (data protection and labour law).

The Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Spain have also looked at the links between digitalisation and national industry models, especially manufacturing. All four countries have developed an Industry 4.0 strategy.

Denmark: Informal contacts, but no action plans or roadmaps

As of November 2016, no action plan or roadmap had been published in Denmark. However, an Industry 4.0 Commission was set up to formulate recommendations on digitalisation and Industry 4.0.

The Danish digital standard in the public sector is very high (see its DESI score), but the private sector lacks initiative and skills. Heads of business and the social partners are calling, with some impatience, for a joint action plan from the Danish Prime Minister. However, there are informal contacts on this subject at tripartite and bipartite level.

Germany: From a Green Paper to a White Paper

In April 2015, the Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) published a Green Paper called Working 4.0: Thinking further about work. This highlights the trends in digitalisation and Industry 4.0, and raises several key questions that are much debated in Germany. These questions include how technological changes will affect:

  • different industries, their production processes and employment levels;
  • workplaces and safety issues;
  • working time concepts;
  • co-determination rights;
  • qualifications needed;
  • forms of employment;
  • social security systems.

The Green Paper promotes the opportunities offered by digitalisation and new forms of work organisation, but it also reflects BMAS’s aim to avoid any detriment to employment levels, pay or working conditions. It followed the publication in 2014 by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) of a report entitled The new high-tech strategy innovations for Germany (PDF).

Publication of the Green Paper served as the starting point for a new forum on the future of work. Academics, social partners, welfare institutions and others were invited to attend expert workshops and conferences. The forum’s goal was to present a White Paper, an official government report. German social partners have welcomed their involvement in the forum, but have also voiced their concerns in position papers. The Federation of German Employer Associations in the Metal and Electrical Engineering Industries (Gesamtmetall) said a constructive approach was needed towards digitalisation and initiating change (PDF). However, it did not feel this needed a further extension of data protection and co-determination rights. The Confederation of German Employer Associations (BDA) published a position paper on the impact of digitalisation (PDF) in May 2015. BDA argues that German business will be able to profit from digitalisation, only if it is not faced with more red tape and regulation. Temporary agency work and service contracts are used in the German economy to organise efficient production chains. BDA says that these need to be sustained and not to be further regulated. It also suggests expanding flexible working time models, as work and family life can be reconciled more easily and global communication (reaching across different time zones) gets easier.

However, the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) views the BDA’s position paper as another attempt to deregulate the German labour market. In June 2016, DGB responded to BDA’s paper by calling for the setting of new rules for new forms of employment (PDF) and the protection of workers in the platform economy or who are engaged in crowd-working or in other flexible employment forms. The rules would not only cover health and safety but also the workers’ coverage by social security systems. DGB also wishes to introduce stricter rules on flexible working time and employees’ performance goals to protect workers from overstrain and psychological illnesses. However, DGB also believes that innovative tools and assistance systems can relieve these issues.

Both BDA and DGB stress that the transformation process will need an accompanying strategy to qualify pupils, (vocational) trainees and employees to support people with no school leaving certificates and to qualify unskilled or low-skilled workers.

The White Paper: Working 4.0 (PDF) was published at the end of November 2016. While it does not answer all the questions posed by the Green Paper in April 2015, BMAS has, nonetheless, used it to point to some solutions.

  • Changing the statutory unemployment insurance to ‘work insurance’: This idea seeks to foster more training, including for those with minimum qualifications, and not just starting when people become unemployed. By qualifying workers early and giving them an individual right to an independent consultation on further training, BMAS wants to ensure that skills are continuously updated throughout the whole of a person’s working life.
  • Drafting a law that offers more options/choices for employees choosing when and where to work: Backed by sectoral or company level regulations that allow deviations from the currently applicable Working Time Act, such a law would seek to combine an employee’s need for security and protection, with an employer’s need for more flexible working hours.
  • Greater use of the scope provided by the European General Data Protection Regulation: To develop concrete proposals, an interdisciplinary advisory committee is to be set up as well as an index on employee data protection. The goal is to develop scientific quality standards to better deal with data protection issues.
  • As digital and technological change will lead to new negotiation processes in establishments and at the sectoral level between social partners, BMAS wishes to strengthen collective bargaining, to reverse the decline in collective bargaining coverage and to foster the creation of more works’ councils as well as giving them ‘adequate rights’.

Another suggestion is to include self-employed people in the statutory pension insurance. The White Paper also suggests investigating whether particular groups, such as crowd workers, need further social security coverage. However, general rules were not called for, with instead the authorities being asked to check the status of individual groups.

It is interesting to see that, in other countries such as the Czech Republic, similar processes are taking place involving the same terminology and mostly revolving around Industry 4.0.

Czech Republic: Trade unions ignored initially

The Czech Republic began to look comprehensively at the issue of digitalisation and its impact on the Czech economy in 2015. The government approved the Action Plan for the Development of the Digital Market in August 2015. The National Industry Initiative 4.0 report (PDF), which was approved in August 2016, looks at impacts on the industrial cycle, labour market and the education system. It proposes:

  • stronger support for applied research;
  • moves to ensure cyber security;
  • the introduction of relevant legislation;
  • the unification of the strategic management of digital issues;
  • the building of a new generation data network.

The National Industry Initiative 4.0 strategy was debated and compiled in working groups comprising experts from employer organisations, selected employers, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, research institutions, academia and independent consultancy companies.

However, the trade unions were given a more limited role in the compilation of the study. When the working groups began work on creating a basic strategy, the Bohemian-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (ČMKOS), the largest trade union association in the Czech Republic, said its opinions were being ignored and openly complained of ‘culpable neglect’. Union representatives were subsequently involved in a debate on digitalisation and automation at the Council for Economic and Social Agreement, which highlighted the need to address, in addition to the Industry 4.0 concept, the social impacts on the labour force of the so-called ‘fourth industrial cycle’. ČMKOS’s views were taken into account and, recently, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs announced the launch of a tender for a large-scale analytical study (code-named Work 4.0).

The Government Office took on the task of putting the Industry 4.0 concept into practice. In addition, a ‘Digital Agent’ was appointed, tasked with coordinating the activities of individual state authorities in preparing specific strategies. This approach reflects the fact that the government recognises the need to introduce measures not only for industry, but also in education and employment policy, and that it is necessary to harmonise these measures.

Germany represents an important bilateral partner. The Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade concluded a cooperation agreement with BMBF in Germany with the aim of cooperating on the introduction of a modern system of education known as ‘Education 4.0’.

Italy: Extensive debates with social partners on the digital growth plan

In Italy, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, along with the Ministry of Economic Development, AgID and the Agency for Territorial Cohesion prepared two national plans: the ‘National Plan for Ultrafast Broadband’ (focusing on grid infrastructure and the supply- and demand-side development of ultrafast broadband) and the Strategy for digital growth (PDF) The objective was to attain the goals set out in the European Digital Agenda. The first plan aims to ensure a connectivity of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2020 for at least 50% of the population. The second plan, also to be implemented by 2020, was debated with the major union associations and employer organisations, as well as with the most representative organisations in the sector.

In July 2016, the Italian Houses of Parliament released an Industry 4.0 plan containing an action strategy to relaunch digital technologies. The latest initiative is an in-depth survey, launched by the 10th Committee (Production Activities, Trade and Tourism) of the Chamber of Deputies in February 2016. This came after the Committee met with representatives from the social partners, important organisations in the sector, universities and some specialised (mostly IT-related) businesses. The main goal of the survey, which was completed on 31 July 2016, was to contribute to the development of an Italian Industry 4.0 strategy. The government intends to identify a national digital factory model that takes into account the development of different production sectors and territorial areas. Although there are no shared common trends, social partners agree that the failure to open up the industrial production system to Industry 4.0 would have a negative impact in many ways, including on employment levels.

Spain: Role of the social partners in developing policies still needs to be clarified

The aim of the initiative, Connected Industry 4.0, launched by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism in collaboration with the Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Spanish companies, is to digitalise Spanish industry (PDF). The objectives are to:

  • increase added-value and employment in the industrial sector in Spain;
  • develop the local offer of digital solutions;
  • develop competitive and differentiating advantages to support Spanish industry and its exports.

Within this framework, the Spanish government seeks to:

  • ensure the development of knowledge and skills;
  • stimulate multidisciplinary collaboration;
  • increase support to companies;
  • develop the regulatory framework.

New bodies will be created to manage these lines of action; most will be composed of public entities, industrial and technological businesses and associations, research and education centres, social partners and experts in Industry 4.0.

The creation of clusters and business associations is also being encouraged, particularly among SMEs, so that they can better face the challenges linked to their limited access to resources. Since June 2016, the Ministry of Industry and Tourism has been offering financial support for projects that promote Industry 4.0 (PDF).

In July 2015, the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism summoned the members of the ‘Table of Industry and Employment’ (created in April 2015) to present them with the government’s initiative ‘Connected Industry 4.0’. The members are CCOO and the General Workers’ Union (UGT), the Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations (CEOE) and the Spanish Confederation of SMEs (Cepyme), which all took part in the presentation event.

The General Secretary of the Metal and Construction Section of UGT claimed that trade unions should play an active role in the design and implementation of digitalisation policies (which had not been the case, in UGT’s opinion). Similarly, CCOO claimed that the role that social partners should play in developing digitalisation policies had not yet been defined.

In May 2016, CCOO held several meetings with the Spanish Ministry of Industry, calling for a ‘Pact for a productive economy’. CCOO said this would be based on the creation of a forum for public authorities, business organisations, trade unions, universities and research centres on the issue of digitalisation of the industry. CCOO also criticised the lack of institutional coordination. However, public representatives argued that the lack of a stable government in Spain makes it difficult to take such policies forward. 

In July 2016, CCOO published the report, The digitalisation of industry (PDF), in which it stresses that digital work should be built under a framework of social dialogue and collective bargaining. Trade unions should be informed about business plans with greater transparency (also at company level), so that they can better face new challenges and develop new roles. In CCOO’s view, governments should also guarantee social protection for those who could be excluded from the labour market and should be open to new labour regulation, within a framework of social dialogue, to deal with challenges linked to issues such as health and safety, work–life balance and learning.

CEOE also considers that Spain needs an agreement between the government, employers and trade unions. However, while trade unions tend to be pessimistic, CEOE considers that productivity will increase, as resources will be used in a more efficient way. New jobs will appear but, according to CEOE, the problem is that Spain is not ready for such change, mainly due to the lack of qualified workers, as well as the lack of training to cover these gaps. For this reason, it (and CCOO) demands that public authorities invest in education and training, stressing the need for education policies covering these new qualification requirements.

Social dialogue outcomes

National action plans on digital change have come into existence or are about to be released. However, there are only a few examples of the first attempts to deal with these issues in collective bargaining. In Germany, the former public railway company Deutsche Bahn and the Railway and Transport Union (EVG) announced the start of negotiations for a new collective agreement to be called Collective Agreement 4.0 (PDF). Social partners have been looking jointly at mobile work and how digitalisation is affecting occupational profiles in the sector. A joint working group was set up and a first meeting scheduled for the beginning of October 2016. At the establishment level, other companies have already concluded a works’ agreement on mobile work. For example, car manufacturer BMW introduced new rules on non-availability of mobile workers and getting mobile working hours properly recognised. In addition, German social partners are involved in updating vocational training regulations or defining skills and profiles for newly developing occupations. In September 2016, the start of the new vocational training year was marked by the release of nine updated vocational training regulations, covering among others occupations such as digital and print media design.

In Denmark, there are no concrete collective agreements or social pacts on these issues. The two largest union confederations, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO – mainly blue-collar but with some white-collar members) and the Confederation of Professionals in Denmark (FTF) (white-collar-workers, salaried employees) have held formal discussions about a common education policy towards, what they called in a press release in September 2016, a ‘new technology that rumbles into the labour market with unprecedented speed’. LO and FTF believe that education and further training, such as the upgrading of skills, is the way to cope with globalisation through digitalisation, new technological solutions and new business platforms. Employees must be prepared to follow the development of existing jobs or jobs emerging from new technology and innovation.

In the Czech Republic and Italy, broader social partner activities have been set up.

In the Czech Republic, an initiative with Google seeks to remove major barriers to the development of digital skills. The initiative, which is the result of cooperation between a range of stakeholders (educational institutions, employer associations and the government), takes the form of the Google helping the Czech Republic grow project. Google offers a free extensive online educational programme through its Digital Garage platform. In addition, in cooperation with various partners, it organises expert lectures on digitalisation, digital skills and entrepreneurship.

The digital technologies branch of the Italian National Confederation of Craftsmanship and SMEs (CNA) promotes the project ‘Digitaly’, which started in July 2015. In it CNA tries to link two major platforms such as Amazon and Google with SMEs, with the support of the National Research Council (CNR) and other partners. CNA has developed about 27 meeting points where major digital companies can meet with more traditional businesses. The project involves around 3,000 companies in business-to-business or business-matching activities. These meetings are complemented with online training initiatives. The goal is to increase the number of meeting points to 50 by the end of 2016. So far, around 9,000 businesses have grown in the digital sector or have engaged in digital-oriented relationships.


The social partners in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Spain are part of the national debates on digital change and its (future) impact on employees and businesses. Nonetheless, national digital agendas or action plans are currently high-level affairs and do not yet translate into implementation at sectoral or company level in all five countries. This is a challenging process, as digitalisation affects many different dimensions of national economies and productions.

Employers and unions have already identified several areas for action: for example, how digital changes affect occupational health and safety issues, working time and organisation, human resource development (employers and employees alike), co-determination and data protection rights as well as the survival prospects of business and state support for implementing change.

While in Germany the first single-employer agreements on the topic have been concluded or, at least, negotiations announced, employers and trade unions in Spain are still concerned about the consequences of digitalisation. As in other countries, both sides of Spanish industry have different perspectives and priorities in these issues. Nonetheless, it is expected that they will have to be dealt with soon by collective bargaining.

In the Czech Republic, it is expected that employers will be much more proactive than trade unions in addressing digitalisation. It is probable that the implementation of strategies connected to the digital market agenda will be based on the cooperation of employer associations and the Czech government. However, trade unions and employers seem likely to have much to discuss on issues such as education, skills, training and structural changes to workplaces.

Overall, many of the topics can expected to be implemented by collective bargaining partners soon.


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