IndustriALL Non-manual Workers’ Workshop - Office in Your Pocket

Office in Your Pocket - IndustriALL looks at mobile working

The Belgian affiliates of IndustriAll hosted a two-day meeting for the non-manual sector in Brussels on 9 and 10 December 2013 which was called Office in your Pocket. The meeting was attended by some 45 people from 13 countries. The challenge for trade unions is to be able to organize white-collar workers and highly skilled people who are not always available in the office or the workplace at all times. Nowadays people work more and more outside working hours on their laptops or their smartphones and are always reachable. This new set of realities creates different questions for trade unions when it comes to organizing members and protecting the members they have.

The first morning of the workshop was devoted to the reality in Belgium which just now is a burning topic. For years there was discrimination between white and blue –collar workers. It was especially a question of the notice period at the end of the contract. From 1 January 2014 there will no longer be a difference in status between the two groups. Legislation and tribunals and social elections will all have to be adapted.

Luc Triangle, Deputy General Secretary of IndustriAll Europe, presented the work done by that organization in the interests of white-collar workers. IndustriAll Europe has a special working party SWP for white-collar workers which is part of the collective bargaining and social policy committee. Some unions only organize white-collar workers, and they did not feel fully recognized. Then again in Turkey for instance it is forbidden for white-collar workers to be trade union members. Thus the diversity in the organization is very great – it goes from organizing all white collars from the low to the very highly paid, it includes organizations that have specific interests such as engineers as well as big unions that organize white collars in addition to blue collars, which is the case for the two German unions IG Metall and IGBCE. Unionen, Sweden, is the biggest purely white-collar union in the world with nearly 600,000 members.

White-collar workers are less well organized in trade unions, although their membership numbers are growing in Europe. Still there is room for improvement. In industry there are less and less blue collars and more and more white collars. Typical themes of interest to white-collar workers are work-life balance, working at home and working time regulations, all the themes on the agenda of this workshop.

Sandra Vercammen from LBC-NVK Belgium presented the problem of organizing young professionals in trade unions. LBC-NVK has a particular department for professionals and managers. For the past 50 years industry has been changing fundamentally, partly due to the growth in services. Blue-collar jobs are also changing, with blue collars performing ever more qualified work. There is a growing share of professional and managerial staff. Employees’ attitudes and perceptions also differ widely. This new group has to be targeted by trade unions.

In the meantime there is a continuous growth in qualifications.  In 2010 10 percent of jobs needed low qualification, and 45 percent needed high qualifications. In 2012 44 percent of the 30 to 34 year olds were highly qualified. Nevertheless 53 percent of workers in manufacturing are still blue collars. Managers and professionals are mainly men – 32 percent are women. 46 percent have a masters degree.

Blue collars are still more unionized. It is still more work to unionize managers and professionals. They are not always covered by working-time arrangements. Their employment, their economic situation, attitudes and mentality, political orientation, lifestyle differ from traditional trade union members. They tend to seek individual solutions. They get their information from other sources. They have an image of trade unions as being old-fashioned. Highly qualified people say they don’t need trade unions. They tend to advance quickly to being supervisors instead of taking a slower career path. When people start to work in the meantime there is an absence of trade union tradition, and a lack of social dialogue. Our trade unions mostly started in the 19th century, which means that now we must adapt to a new world.

The goal is to pass on a positive image. LBC-NVK tries to get people already at university. They develop activities for them. They try to present themselves in a different, positive and constructive way. They go looking for them at job fairs at universities and workshops. In 2013 they had more than 6000 visitors at job fairs. They give them salary advice, career counseling and help with their cv and applications as well as job orientation and developing their profile.

Olivier Pintelon from SETCA explained that there is even a distinction between white collars and professional and managerial staff, although some definitions are interchangeable. Some managerial staff can be excluded from labor law regulations. More and more white-collar workers are considered to be managers, which means that the concept of managers is too widespread. They often have individual negotiations. They have lower trade union representation, although it is still 35 percent in Belgium, which is low compared to the other groups.

Some parts of industry in Belgium have high numbers of white collars. The chemical sector has 59.4 percent, the metal sector 30.7 percent, and the petroleum industry 81.1 percent. Some companies even have a majority of professionals and managers. In the chemical industry professionals and managers are excluded from trade union representation – they do not feel represented by trade unions because there are regulations in place to exclude them. They are effectively excluded from wage scales, early retirement schemes, time-credit systems, year-end bonuses. The goal should be that only real managers should be excluded. Some good experiences are available at Estee Lauder and Janssens Pharmaceuticals in Belgium. We need to include professionals and managers in pay scales and in the trade union delegations, otherwise they will not feel part of trade unions.

Chris Vanmol from ACV-BIE presented the situation in the gas and electricity sectors in Belgium, where the majority is private. The industry has many managerial staff, almost double as many as there were ten years ago. The commercial areas have white collars, but  they do not have fixed working time arrangements. Middle management and executive management is far apart. Middle management are still trade union members.

The question is how trade union members can discipline other trade union members, where there is indeed a contradiction. Since some have managerial functions, they must give discipline. Managers do indeed have dual roles, but they are an employer and an employee – even a manager is an employee. The general feeling is that managers should be in the union. Unionen has had good experience reaching out to new groups. Over the last year Unionen gained 30,000 new members, including students and managers.

Bernard Salengro, CFE-CGC France, presented statistics about the wide-ranging effects of office in your pocket on stress, on the job and in personal life. For instance a growing number of people, men and women, have trouble finding a balance between work and personal life. More and more people use a laptop and a smartphone for working purposes. Almost everyone feels that these new ways of working entail ever shorter deadlines as well as increasing the amount of information to process. In addition about two-thirds of those surveyed in France felt that it was no longer possible to draw a clear line between working time and personal life. Again about two-thirds of those surveyed felt a greater burden from work than some years ago. Likewise some two-thirds of the people had the feeling that they no longer had the time to do quality work.

Dr Salengro’s recommendation was to monitor the situation, raise the issues and negotiate on them. It is no longer viable to consider psychosomatic difficulties arising from work issues as individual problems. On the one hand there is an ever greater danger of burn-out, but on the other hand people do like this way of working. Some see it as an opportunity. For young people it is their lifestyle. We must talk to employers but also to our members. We need to alert our members of the dangers, but we must not be pessimistic, because they would not appreciate it. All in all, we should consider the opportunities without however losing sight of the backside.

Mikael Dubois from Unionen, Sweden, presented Boundaryless Working Life. The crucial issues involved in boundaryless working life are work-life balance, workplace-home balance, manager-employee balance and different time zones/geography/globalization. What is behind boundaryless working life is technological development, changes in how work is organized and increased influence over when to work, interesting and stimulating work, increased work-life balance due to telework and a better bargaining position in relation to the employer.

Nevertheless constant availability for work-related communication lowers the quality of the necessary rest periods. Working at high speed and a high work load lead to more overtime and self-reduced breaks. Moreover to work efficiently professional employees must often acquire by themselves the necessary social and organizational resources.

In October 2013 Unionen surveyed 1000 professional employees in the private sector. Seven out of ten are accessible for work during evenings and leisure time at least once a week, while five out of ten report that they are accessible for work every day. One out of three feels that work affects their leisure time. Three out of ten have trouble stopping thinking about their work during their leisure time. These results are more pronounced for those who are especially accessible for work such as mobile employees and other professionals. Nine out of ten have no regulations concerning the extent to which they are expected to be accessible for work outside regular working hours. Three out of four enjoy their work. Those who are especially accessible are available for work every day and work from home at least once a week.

It is common to work outside the ordinary work place. Telework is common. Six out of ten can work anywhere. Almost half work elsewhere at least once a week. To work at home is most common when working outside the ordinary work place.

As far as accessibility for work is concerned, it is rare for employers to directly require employees to be accessible. Employers may tacitly require employees to be available. It is however most common for employees to remain accessible to help colleagues. The next most common is for employees to remain accessible for work to help clients. People also want to stay accessible to not miss out on potentially important information.

To handle boundaryless work, we must handle accessibility for work. Rest periods are important – being accessible for work over long periods is a health risk. We are influenced by tacit requirements and tacit agreements. Work outside the ordinary work place must also have a clear beginning and a clear end. Employers are responsible by law for the working environment, so they must be taken to task. A policy that regulates accessibility for work is one way to make clear expectations on accessibility for work and to point out employers’ responsibility.

Unionen sees the regulation of social and psychological work environment as being up to the State. Local representatives must also be educated. There should be a policy on work and cell phone accessibility. Agreements on working hours need to be strengthened.

Juan-Carlos Antas, IG Metall Germany, presented trends and regulations in Germany on mobile working. Mobile working is just part of the new processes and attempts to drive productivity. Even non-manual work is becoming lean. The new fashion is the lean office. One of the aims of the lean office is to reduce costs, in terms of real estate, working material, means of production. It is also a question of reducing processes, to have predetermined, centrally structured processes, and at the same time of improving processes. Overall the focus is on digitalized processes, with IT the most important tool.

Many offices are open space, often with shared desks, and this entails a cheapening of the structures. The consequences are new structures, management is mostly absent, people are self-directed. Work is disconnected from work location, and the workplace can be chosen according to other objectives than where the means of production are located. Thus the whole work process is organized differently. Employees have more freedom to organize themselves. Office work is changing, thus the offices change. Work is digitalized and structured to be mobile. There is more homeworking, teleworking, working at clients. About 1/3  of employees use company IT from home or elsewhere. And more than 1/4  of employers offer mobile workplaces.

People are too accessible, too available, but their willingness to be so is high. Nevertheless there are risks for workload, performance, work structure, resources, work-life balance. There is a change from effort-oriented work organization to result-oriented organization. Although most people are glad to assume responsibility for themselves, the level of isolation is high, and the need for protection has also not gone away, for example for ergonomics. In addition it is a challenge to get people to act together.

The opportunities are many. There is a chance for employees to organize themselves along personal preferences. Flexibility has to be used for employees, not just for employers. People are often glad to spend less money and time on transport and commuting. 46 percent of people would like to work at least partly at home.

But some rules are necessary. There has to be a framework to limit the workload and performance. The right to choose mobile work also has to be possible. Works councils need to be strengthened in their ability to exercise controls. Training should be made available in the new challenges, and health and safety in mobile work has to be guaranteed.

Certain rules and agreements have been concluded in the meantime. VW for example shuts down the blackberry server at night. BMW has rules on desk sharing and availability, at Daimler emails can be deleted during leave time, and Bosch has similar regulations, as does Osram.

In the discussion it was stated that current collective agreements do not have the necessary contents, and that definitions have to be firmed up. A new challenge is how to quantify work, especially for white-collar workers. One other question is how to protect people from themselves. These are new areas where a lot of answers still need to be found.

Sandra Vercammen presented UNI’s work on work-life balance in her capacity as President of the UNI Europa Professionals and Managers’ Group. Women, youth and professionals are three important target groups. Part of UNI’s professional and manager strategy is the campaign based on collective bargaining and the work-life management campaign in the ICT sector.

For UNI professionals and managers work-life management is defined as having some control over when, where and how to work. “The key to achieving work-life management is having a sense of control and empowerment.”

What is typical for professionals and managers is the following:

  • They work longer hours, take shorter breaks and have fewer holidays
  • Childcare is too expensive or difficult to find, care for the elderly is inconsistent, and financial support during family-related leave is uneven
  • Quest for higher productivity and long hours culture can limit effects of improved rights and undermine equal opportunities policies between workers
  • Because of all of these effects on poor work-life balance UNI seeks to ensure that all workers have access to good work-life balance policies and practices

In Europe depression is a key issue. That is one of the reasons why professionals and managers need to be alerted about the problems of limitless work. Workers need to be engaged to debate the impact of mobile technology on the quality of jobs and working conditions. The impact of a poor work-life balance is especially crucial on women and young workers and those with caring responsibilities. We must meet the challenge of increased mobility and flexibility and its impact on professional and managers’ work-life management. A forum needs to be provided to exchange and share best practices. New and negotiated solutions should be offered for better work-life management. UNI P & M has guides and materials that can be downloaded for use in campaigns.

Gwenne Farrell, vice-chair of the IndustriAll women’s committee, presented the challenges and opportunities of organizing women. Trade unions need to organize women especially because the movement is shrinking and to counteract the attacks by right wing extremists and also to reflect the diversity in society.

Women’s jobs are on the rise, while men’s jobs are shrinking. Unions still look at male-dominated industries, where they should be focusing on women, even though they are often not in the majority at workplaces and they earn less. Unions focus on laborers, maintenance, security and ignore women’s jobs.

Organizing women is different from organizing men. Organizers need to be representative of the people they want to organize. This has to happen with any diverse group. In addition we need to recognize and promote women’s different issues as well as recognizing different cultural issues. Women have different concerns. They focus on childcare or work-life balance. We have to sell certain things to women if we want to organize them. Moreover we have to make sure that the face of our unions reflects the face of the work force.

Young people also have different challenges. Young people’s agenda  and program have to be integrated. This will change the organization. One of the most critical issues is precarious jobs. They are calling into question the way we work. Now we have to find out how to organize temporary workers who work in several jobs, or the  unemployed who return to employment. Canada is losing jobs, and the jobs that are coming in their place are casual and low paid. The dues revenue is less, and it is harder to take care of and keep members. It is important to include on the trade union agenda items of importance to women and young people. Young people do not know their rights which is why it is all the more important to provide them support in difficult situations.

Eric Gyima from Ghana Mineworkers Union made a presentation on professional and managerial staff in the mining industry. Ghana Mineworkers Union has made inroads in organizing skilled workers in the mining industry. It is a very male dominated environment which primarily organizes in gold, diamond, manganese and bauxite mines and now in mining services. Until 2006 the union focused on blue-collar employees. This went back to the colonial era, but it continued after independence. Blue-collar workers felt oppressed by white-collar workers. It was hard for the white collars to join the union. Labor legislation was not clear either. The industry started a transformation to high tech, which meant that expats started to compete with the locals. That led the white collars to rethink their attitude toward the union. The union started organizing senior staff in 2006. A lot of highly skilled geologists, mining engineers, physicists, doctors and accountants are members of the union. There are 2578 professional staff, out of whom 278 are women. The union negotiates for them and got away from individual contracts. There are 18 mines and 13 contractors. The mines farm work out to contractors. Thus the union organizes the workers in the contracting companies. The union gets good salaries and benefits for them as well as compensation for loss of employment. To the extent that the industry downsizes and retrenches, it is necessary to secure compensation for people.

Nevertheless it is hard to integrate these people into the decision-making structures. They are seen to be a kind of threat. Still the union educates the comrades to accept each other. Blue collars are often reluctant to accept white-collar organization. They must know that there is value in white-collar organization. This partnership results in a lot of synergies. Subscription arrangements were also made to facilitate the integration process. There still exist inequalities between foreign expats and locals with the same skills. And there is also resistance from employers. Locals need to be able to rise up, but employers drag their feet, even though they cannot keep foreign expats. At any rate the locals need to take over.

Ghana Mineworkers take women’s concerns very seriously. Education measures target women , and women are trained in the communities where the wives are organized in associations. Their status is therefore improved. The union has a project with SASK which aims to improve miners’ wives’ economic status. The union invests a lot of resources in the women’s structure. The second national chairperson is reserved for women, and there is a women’s conference.

Briit Riise Fredheim from EI Norway continued presenting experiences with highly skilled contract workers. In Norway too more and more people are working on contracts, although basically everyone should be appointed permanently. EI had a look at the contracts at Statoil. Some people were working for 20 years on contract, although they wanted to have permanent contracts. The law is clear – after four years of working, the contract becomes permanent. The company lost its case at court. In Norway there are enough jobs. Still people never know when the company will terminate the contract.

But well qualified people earn a lot on contract, and people working on the same project have different salaries, whereas the permanent contracts will pay the same salary to everyone. Naturally it is not possible to have people working side by side with different pay. People working on permanent contracts make the environment better, and people on contract can quit at any time and take their experience with them. In Norway there are very well paid consultants because there is a lack of workers and engineers. Engineers are very well paid. With them there is a pool of attractive, qualified people. There are what is called cloud workers. Companies hire engineers for projects which last from five months to five years. People are keen on this type of contract.

BMW in Leipzig hast 60 percent of people working on temporary contract. They are like just in time contract workers. Mercedes also has 60 percent fixed term contracts. This is just indicative of how precarious work in white-collar jobs is increasing. Engineers are often hired on contract. People are fired due to lean concepts. The same people then come back to do the same job, sometimes earning more but not always. This is ostensibly to provide more freedom, but what happens is that companies save costs. The unions have to take action on this so that people feel they are taken seriously. This issue must also be driven in IndustriAll.

The workshop arrived at the following conclusions from the two days of meeting:

  • Organize more white-collar workers
  • Continue with the work on Office in your Pocket
  • Define and investigate the number of white-collar workers in IndustriAll Global Union as well as the categories of non-manual workers from low paid administrative staff and low paid laboratory workers to highly paid engineers
  • Map out the potential for new members in IndustriAll
  • Explore how to organize the mobile workforce
  • Explore how to organize around the issues of working time, stress, diversity
  • Change attitudes to make trade unions aware that managerial and professional staff are also part of the organization
  • Get trade unions to commit to organizing more activities for white collars
  • Do research into legal restrictions around the world on organizing white-collar workers, disseminate the results and address them
  • Focus on the sectors
  • Focus on new trends
  • Focus on precarious work for highly skilled people
  • Work closely with the women’s structures
  • Continue working with IndustriAll Europe and UNI
  • Address issues involved in Office in your Pocket in GFA negotiations, notably to regulate accessibility, cover health and safety, work organization, work-life balance and working time
  • 2014 workshop should focus on best practices in organizing white-collar workers, organizing office in your pocket and the mobile work force and take place outside of Europe
  • Change the mindset of trade unions, especially those that organize only blue collars
  • Report to the EXCO on the work done by the non-manual group