On 14 September, a network of European and North American labour unions and worker organisations called for transnational cooperation to ensure fair working conditions on digital labour platforms (such as clickworker, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Jovoto and Uber).

“Digitalization does not need to contribute to rising income inequality and polarized politics,” declared the participating organisations, which include the Austrian Chamber of Labor (Arbeiterkammer), Austrian Trade Union Confederation (ÖGB), Danish Union of Commercial and Clerical Workers (HK), German Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall), International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 117 (Seattle, USA), Service Employees International Union (USA and Canada), and Unionen (Sweden).

“Businesses, workers, and regulators have a common interest in ensuring that the benefits of digitalization are shared broadly and equitably — and worker participation in the governance of work is a historically proven mechanism for doing so. Against the risk of ‘digital feudalism,’ platform operators, workers, worker organizations, clients, researchers, and regulators must work together to bring democracy to these new digital workplaces.”

The remarks were made in a paper that was released following a workshop on ‘Union Strategies in the Platform Economy’, which took place in Frankfurt in April 2016. The report outlines basic workers’ rights and their implementation in these “digital workplaces” while also looking at ways for unions to organise workers and “co-operate” transnationally on labour-management relations.

The digitalisation of the economy and its impact on labour markets and working conditions has been high on the agenda this year. In June, the ETUI and ETUC organised a high-level conference on this subject, the objective being to understand and therefore ‘shape’ this new world of work. The ETUI has produced a report of the conference which summarises its main outcomes and outlines ten recommendations for future action. The report is available here.

Christophe Degryse, head of the Foresight unit of the ETUI, stated: “Digital platforms are the factories of the 21st century. One of the most important challenges for the world of work is to introduce the principle of collective action to those platforms in order to improve working conditions for all.”