In every country the impact of technology on workers is managed through the laws that govern the relationships between workers, employers and government.
In many developed countries workers have had substantial experience of dealing with the introduction of new technology, and so there is existing legislation on this. For example, Canada has Article 51 of the Labour Code dedicated to technological change.
Most regulatory frameworks deal with the issue of technological change from the following areas:
- Regulating how and why technology can be introduced by an employer.
- Regulating how this affects workers.
- Regulating what forms of compensation or training workers are provided.
The most successful regulatory frameworks are the product of tripartite engagement between workers, employers and government.
In essence, a positive regulatory framework for technological change and workers gives workers input into the design of the system itself, provides certain guarantees to workers, effectively regulating when and how technology can be introduced.
There are many positive examples of this type of engagement from around the world. In this toolkit we are presenting two main examples from Singapore and Belgium.
The Singaporean system is based on a tripartite model in which workers, employers and government cooperate to develop a strategy that will ensure Singapore develops economically, that business can remain competitive and adapt cutting edge technology, and that workers can be prepared for the demands of the new digital economy. To this end Singaporean unions have cooperated in building a system heavily based upon training, skills and education of workers.
To prepare workers who may be displaced with technology, various tripartite committees are looking at re-defining the jobs and creation of new roles in order to bridge the skills gaps these workers may have. Workers are also encouraged to embrace technology and automation as a tool for better productivity. Workers who are inevitably made redundant are supported through various tripartite guidelines on managing excess manpower to ensure a “soft” impact on such probable retrenchment.
Singaporeans unions are also using their Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to support skills training to enable working people to upgrade and/or deepen their skillsets. Displaced workers are also encouraged to make use of the services in e2i for for reskilling and job placements for continued relevance in the respective industries. It is expected that this will help improve wages and employment conditions.
The Belgian National Labour Council is the highest instance of bargaining between employers and unions. Collective Labour Agreements (CLA) are binding for every private company. CLA No. 39 of December 1983 deals with the consultation process and the social consequences of the introduction of new technologies. Employers are obliged to give workers at least 3 months’ notice of the introduction of new technology and the rationale for it. They must also consult with unions with regard to the impact on work and working conditions, health and safety and possible retraining. This national level agreement is often complemented by workplace agreements. The weakness of the system is that employers cannot be forced to begin the information and consultation process.