This is a joint project with the EFBWW and Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology. The study on how does digitalisation affect the workplace in the construction and woodwork sectors has been conducted by Fraunhofer IPK.
The study investigates the impact of digital technologies on workers in the construction and woodworking sectors and how trade unions are responding to these changes by answering the following questions:
To answer these questions, an initial desk research, mainly focussing on impact, was carried out. This was complemented by interviews with trade union representatives in six different countries (Denmark, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria).
- In most cases, digital technologies, especially robots/automation and the trend towards prefabrication, are seen as having a positive impact in terms of reducing physical strain and improving occupational safety and health (OSH) and the overall working environment. At the same time, it was pointed out that new psychological strains could arise.
- Digital technologies are expected to improve the efficiency of processes such as planning and communication throughout the value chain. Increased efficiency and automation may lead to downsizing of the workforce, which could trigger fears of job loss. On the other hand, increased efficiency could put a halt to the offshoring of production in the woodworking sector.
- All technologies require trained workers, which can be seen as a positive factor, but qualification requirements may also create pressure. The cases studies indicate a shift in tasks is expected, and identify a risk of simpler and smaller tasks, which could undermine functions, reducing the need for training and hence wages. Some technologies open up the possibility of monitoring the workforce, although in the interviews positive experiences appeared to outweigh these fears. Digital technologies can also help to ensure fair pay.
In most cases, trade unions see technological development as inevitable, and most representatives welcome the positive changes that digital technologies bring. Negative aspects are viewed to be avoidable if appropriate measures are taken. One recurring attitude is that trade unions should act to influence the social impact of technological developments in order to ensure positive outcomes for workers.
At present, technological aspects are not typically included in collective agreements, although they are being discussed in the ongoing social dialogue, and not just during collective bargaining. Accordingly, collective agreements do not cover what is already taking place in the sectors, where technology is being introduced, albeit slowly.
There are often no clear guidelines on how to include these aspects in collective agreements, although such topics are included in discussions about vocational training. At the company level, the launch of new technologies is being discussed with works councils or local trade union representatives. However, due to the many small companies in the construction sector, there is often no formal employee representation.
Trade unions should try to take a proactive approach to digitalisation issues before it takes place on a larger scale, especially in the construction sector. This is important because the level of digitalisation in the construction sector is currently low compared to cases in the woodworking sector in this study. If trade unions could get involved at an early stage, they would have more influence.
As technologies are introduced into everyday work, there is a clear need for appropriate training for workers in their initial approach to the job, but also for on-the-job training.
Digitalisation should be included in the ongoing sectoral social dialogue and in collective agreements, as these can be leveraged to shape the social parameters of technological change. The interviews demonstrated that trade unions are aware of technological change and have ideas about how to shape its social impact, so they should now turn this awareness and these ideas into action.