Conference invitation – Re-Thinking Labour Law in the Digitalization Era – save the date

International conference organized by:

ETUI, ELW and ETUC, with the support of ELDH

15 and 16 October 2020, @ International Trade Union House (Auditorium), Boulevard Roi Albert II 5, 1210 – Brussels

save the date, the registration link will be published in July

OR  if that is not possible, as a series of webinars[*]

The Concept of the Conference

The idea behind the conference is to constructively engage with the disruptive effect of digitalization on the world of labour.

Covid-19 aggressively turned our lives upside down. It is too early to tell how deeply the pandemic is changing our society, but one thing appears clear: technology will have a more pervasive and essential role in our working and private lives. The first signs are already there: those who can are working remotely via digital tools and food delivery by platform workers has been relied on by many. Moreover, policymakers worldwide are envisaging collaborations with technological developers to create “virus-tracking” apps.

The steady technological advancement is radically transforming our societies and has a pervasive impact on businesses, labour market and, first and foremost, workers. The von der Leyen Commission has placed the deepening of the EU data economy and investments in AI among the top priorities of its agenda. The Covid-19 emergency has further intensified the reliance on software, data and AI, thus speeding up the digital transformation in all sectors.

Yet, a serious political discussion on how to deal with the implications for workers and on the adequacy of current labour legislation seems absent, at the EU as well as the national level.

Academics, trade unionists and policymakers are well aware that technology presents challenges for workers and their rights. There is a widespread consensus that a reconceptualization of (part of) the current normative framework is necessary. However, even if several legal systems have implemented reforms (and others are in the pipeline), innovation runs faster than rule-making, and legislation is quickly outdated or not sufficiently comprehensive.

Workers thus risk not finding an adequate support system in existing labour laws: Often their job is not covered by the traditional concept of ‘labour relation’; they are exposed to new health and safety risks; the use of their data is out of their control; they receive supervision, instructions and surveillance by different entities while the identity of their employer is blurred.

Substantial improvements towards more adequate protection are necessary and a change in the normative mindset is of fundamental importance. The social rationale of labour law is at stake; the adoption of a far-reaching agenda, looking at anticipating -instead of overlooking- the risks of digitalization for workers’ rights, is crucial.

The Conference brings together leading academics, law practitioners and trade unionists with the intent to critically reflect on the main challenges that digitalization poses for workers’ rights. The objective is to provide insights and to share best practices for the benefit of those who professionally deal with the labour law consequences of digitalization.

The Structure of the Conference:

Adopting an holistic approach on the impact of digitalization on labour law, the conference addresses three main themes. The first is how labour law can adequately approach business models based on online apps or software, typical of the platform and gig-economy. The second critical issue is to identify and address the effect of AI on existing workers’ rights. The third question, which relates to the first two, is to determine the effect of new technologies on the (bargaining) power imbalance between management and workforce.

The conference provides a synergy between theoretical reflections and more pragmatic discussions on best practices. Hence, the conference will be structured along four sessions:

  1. Keynote presentations, to introduce the different thematic areas and their main critical issues;
  2. Litigation strategies, to offer insights into litigation approaches across countries and sectors;
  3. Trade unions and works council strategies, to discuss initiatives to enhance the workers’ bargaining position;
  4. Policy responses, to offer reflections and explore proposals on the future of policy-making in labour matters.

The Programme:

Thursday 15 October (from 13:00 till 18:30)

12:00-13:00                Registration and lunch       

13:00-13:30                Opening and welcome

Isabelle Schömann (ETUC), Opening statement

Silvia Rainone (ETUI), Introduction to the programme

13:30-16:00                The disruptive effect of digitalization in labour law

Speakers                    Andreja Schneider-Dörr (Hans Böckler Stiftung), New business models (gig-economy and platform work)

Anna Byhovskaya (TUAC), Digitalization and AI at work: what’s a just transition?

14:30-15:00                Coffee break

Valerio de Stefano (KU Leuven), Master and Servers: Robots, AI and Work

Marta Otto (University of Lodz), Fundamental Rights Protection in the Age of Big Data

16:00-16:15                Coffee break

16:15-18:00                Litigation Strategies 

Speakers                    Carlo de Marchis (lawyer), Litigation strategies and digital platforms    

TBC, Constructive approach to EU and national social legislation           

Teresa Coelho Moreira (University of Minho), Data protection workers’ rights – EU law framework  

Aude Cefaliello (University of Glasgow), Health and safety & AI 

19:00                          Aperitive and dinner

Friday 16 October (from 9:00 till 13:15)

8:30-9:00                    Coffee break

9:00-10:45                  Trade Unions and Work Council Strategies  

Speakers                   

TBC, Collective bargaining and digital platforms  

Ignacio Doreste Hernandez (ETUC), Trade unions strategies to approach digitalization (platform, gig-economy, and how to deal with the competition law issue)             

Aline Hoffmann (ETUI), Technology at work:  developing new strategies for Work Councils and trade union reps– examples, good practice, litigations        

Stuart Appelbaum (RWDSU), The Amazon Case    

10:45-11:15                Coffee break

11:15-13:00                Policy responses

Speakers                   

Ibán García Del Blanco MEP (European Parliament) TBC, The EU Strategy on AI and workplace related aspects

Ana Carla Pereira (European Commission), EU (normative?) approach to platform workers

Aida Ponce Del Castillo (ETUI), How to conciliate workers’ rights with AI and big data        

Maria Helena André (ACTRAV – ILO), Consideration on the future of work 

13:15                          Lunch and end of the conference

Registration cost:

The attendance of the conference is free of charge. The costs of participation (travel and accommodation) are not covered by the organizers, with the exception of early career academics engaging with the theme of the conference. To receive such compensation, please send an application with a short motivation letter and a cv, to srainone@etui.org and thomas.schmidt@eldh.eu .

The registrations will open in July.

The Organizers:

The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) is the independent research and training centre of the European trade Union Confederation (ETUC). The ETUI conducts studies on socio-economic topics and industrial relations and monitors European policy developments of strategic importance for the world of labour.

The European Lawyers for Workers Network (ELW) unites lawyers, trade unionists and academics committed to support workers across Europe. The Network promotes the transfer of knowledge among its members, with a specific focus on trade unions’ strategies and relevant courts’ decisions.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) affiliates European trade unions into a single European umbrella organisation. The ETUC represents 45 million members from 90 trade union organisations in 38 European countries, plus 10 European Trade Union Federation.

The European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH) is a progressive, non-profit organization, which currently unites lawyers from 21 European countries, who join forces to struggle among others for Human rights and civil liberties, social and economic rights, democracy, migrants and refugees, equal rights for men and women.

For any question concerning the programme, please feel free to contact Silvia Rainone at: srainone@etui.org and Thomas Schmidt at: thomas.schmidt@eldh.eu


[*] The organizers are working both towards the realization of a face-to-face conference and toward setting up a series of webinars as an alternative. More information will follow during the summer and our decision will be taken in accordance with the preventive measures adopted by the Belgian Government.