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Chemical and pharmaceutical unions push for worker protections at ILO global forum

13 December, 2018IndustriALL Global Union trade unions from the pharmaceutical and chemical industries pushed for better worker protections at an International Labour Organization (ILO) global forum on digitalization and the future of work, from 10 to 12 December. 

IndustriALL affiliates met with representatives of employers and governments at the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, which resulted in Points of Consensus that underline the importance of social dialogue in managing the changes of digitalization and Industry 4.0.

Tony Devlin, from UK and Ireland affiliate union, Unite, and spokesperson for the Workers’ Group at the meeting, said: 

“Our members throughout this sector are already experiencing significant changes to their jobs and working conditions from the digitalization process. Workers must have a seat at the decision-making table in order to ensure that none are left behind during these technological advancements.”

The Workers’ Group consisted of representatives from IndustriALL affiliates in 12 countries – Belgium, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States – as well as representatives from the International Trade Union Confederation and ACTRAV, the ILO workers’ bureau. 

“As the driving force for these technological transformations of the industry is presently to reduce costs, there is a clear danger that rather than benefiting society, advanced digitalization and related technologies will only re-enforce a race-to-the-bottom mentality in the industry,” said the Workers’ Group in a statement to the plenary. 

“However, there is an opportunity for these technologies to be introduced in a mutually beneficial manner, with better working conditions, increased leisure time, life-long learning, social protection, and a cleaner environment, while protecting workers' rights.”

The Workers’ Group called for extensive analysis of the knowledge and skills possessed by today’s workers in the industries, and research into how best to bridge any skills gap with education and training opportunities.

Social dialogue is key to developing sound policies in the public interest, argued the Workers’ Group, as well as strong social protection programmes necessary to underpin a Just Transition to the new world of work. 

The Workers’ Group called for defined levels of privacy at home and at work to be included in collective bargaining agreements, as new technologies enable companies to harvest huge amounts of personal data. 

“Work life balance is becoming increasingly blurred by these technologies, with workers expected to be online and responsive 24 hours a day. This undermines the Working Time Directive in the European Union,” added the Workers’ Group.

The 17 Consensus Points include points on: 

  • Opportunities and challenges with respect to decent and productive work
  • Shaping a future that works for all
  • Recommendations for future action by the ILO and its members to ensure decent and productive work in the era of digitalization in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. 

“IndustriALL Global Union wants a future of work that embraces the positive impacts that Industry 4.0 may bring for all of society while making sure that workers aren’t left to pay the social debts of companies, with governments unwilling to make this transition socially responsible. We cannot allow the benefits to be privatized and the costs to be socialized,” said IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, Kemal Ôzkan. 

The full Points of Consensus can be found here