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27 May 2016

Research agenda exchange on digitalisation – main focus of eighth TURI conference

This year’s gathering of trade union-related researchers took place in Lisbon and Sesimbra on 11 to 13 May. The eighth annual conference of the TURI network was organised by the ETUI in cooperation with its Portuguese members - the Centre for Social Studies (CES) of the University of Coimbra and the Instituto Ruben Rolo (IRR) - and with the kind support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Portugal and Montepio Geral – Associação Mutualista.

The conference kicked off with a trade union public event on 11 May in Lisbon. After the welcome speeches, Elisio Estanque from the CES and Fernando Gomes from the IRR offered some introductory insights into the industrial relations and social dialogue landscape in Portugal. The first presentation explained the difficult situation of the trade unions, due to the late appearance of social structures in Portugal and the fragility of the economy in comparison to the rest of Europe. Important gains made in the past are now being threatened, leading to the increasing precariousness of the labour market and the fragmentation of the social state. The second talk was more optimistic about the future and particularly the potential for new perspectives in the Portuguese social dialogue under the current centre-left government.

The representatives of the two Portuguese trade union confederations talked about the main challenges facing their country’s trade unions. Both were committed to positively contributing to the renewed dynamics of the Portuguese political situation. Armenio Carlos, General Secretary of the CGTP, sees the election of the new government as an outcome of the fight against the Troika. Catarina Tavares, International Secretary at the UGT, argued that while it is important to defend this political alternative, trade unions also need to take positions on new challenges such as digitalisation and environmental protection. Peter Scherrer, deputy General Secretary of the ETUC, declared that although very difficult to achieve in the current socio-economic and political context, a social Europe is possible. However, to do so, the trade union movement needs to be more united, committed and visible than ever.

On 12 and 13 May, the TURI network discussed such highly relevant topics as the digitalisation of the labour market and the refugee crisis in Europe.

Peter Scherrer presented the ETUC agenda on the issue of digitalisation and said that the outcomes of the ETUI/ETUC conference - ‘Shaping the new world of work: The impacts of digitalisation and robotisation’ - will lay the foundations for the political work of the ETUC in the coming years.

Many of the TURI members - the ETUI, FTU, WSI, FAOS, EURISPES, IRES and AK – then presented their research agendas and/or projects on the subject. An interesting point of debate was the question of whether digitalisation is a mere evolution that we only need to adapt our framework to in order to master, or whether we are witnessing a revolution which requires another framework altogether. Most of the participants thought that digitalisation was a continuous long-term process, but several arguments to the contrary were also expressed.

The topic of the second day was the refugee crisis and the responses from the trade unions. In Germany, argued Heiner Dribbusch from the Hans Böeckler Foundation, socio-political views rather than the socio-economic situation are the decisive factors explaining xenophobia. What is very worrying for the German trade unions is that union constituencies appear to be particularly attracted to right-wing populism and parties on the far right.

Anne Britt Djuve from Fafo talked about the difficult integration of refugees in the Nordic countries. She argued that the political sustainability of accepting refugees usually lies in a mix of solidarity and self-interest. The perspective of the ETUC, as explained by Marco Cilento, is that the EU is in a position to take a huge number of refugees without getting itself into a crisis, but that the refugees need to be integrated into the labour market as quickly as possible because only then will they become members of this society.

The presentations made at the conference and other relevant documents can be downloaded from the TURI website.

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