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Social partnership and digital transformation

  • Engelsk sammendrag av Fafo-rapport 2020:07
  • Inger Marie Hagen og Sigurd M. Nordli Oppegaard
  • 11. mai 2020

In this report we investigate the challenges that social partnership comes up against in digitisation processes. We are concerned with the challenges that follow from the change processes, as well as those that are associated with the consequences of digitisation.

The report starts with ‘the big picture’ and a general description of digitisation as a technological change process that affects both work processes and work organisation, and also the relative competitiveness of enterprises. A crucial point, however, is that the consequences of technological change are neither neutral nor pre-determined, but rather a product of the social and economic conditions and relationships in which the technology is created, and the context in which it is implemented. On the one hand, the Norwegian industrial relations model – with local-level social partnership, coordinated wage formation and universal welfare schemes – is in principle well prepared to cope with technological change, and has succeeded well in this respect historically. On the other hand, however, current digitisation processes represent a major challenge to this way of organising working life, because a great number of jobs may disappear or move to other parts of the world, and also because digitisation presents challenges to local-level social partnership in the enterprises.

Chapter 2 describes social partnership, the Norwegian model, at the micro level. Local cooperation between the partners, with a view to addressing challenges and promoting solutions that are acceptable to both employers and employees, is a key ingredient in the relatively well-functioning Norwegian labour market and economy in general. This partnership is governed by the Basic Agreement, which provides the employees and their elected representatives with the right to real co-determination, and it should help promote productivity, development and good, safe workplaces. Digitisation is also a topic in two of the supplementary agreements (Supplementary Agreement IV, framework agreement on technological development and computer-based systems, and Supplementary Agreement V, agreement on monitoring of enterprises). Local social partnership has proven to be a fruitful institution for addressing change processes, but encounters a potential challenge with regard to digitisation, a faster and more complex type of change which also has a tendency to increase the gap between production and management. Digitisation therefore sets requirements for competence in elected representatives and for the relationship between the partners.

In Chapter 3, we summarise the characteristics of digitisation as a technological change process in the context of working life. We distinguish between digitisation of work processes, by which the tasks performed by workers are replaced by digital tools, and digitisation of work organisation, by which digital tools and systems are used to coordinate workers and work processes. We divide the digitisation process into three stages: implementation of a digital tool or instrument, use of data to analyse production and work processes, and change of production and work processes in light of the data collected. We also discuss how digitisation of work processes and organisation can be regarded as a form of automation of decisions, and highlight the importance of examining the question ‘Why should we digitise?’ We conclude this chapter with a discussion of the kinds of management that are promoted by digitisation, as well as the role of managers in digitisation processes.

In Chapter 4, we discuss the consequences of digitisation of work processes and organisation based on Norwegian and international research literature. The chapter provides an overview of how digitisation can affect work in different sectors and illustrates some of the challenges that workers, trade union representatives and the social partnership are facing in digitisation processes. The review shows that different actors encounter different challenges. For the workers, the challenges posed by digitisation are associated with influence, control and surveillance, distribution and changed boundaries. For the trade union representatives we find that increased polarisation in the workforce, new staffing and development strategies, erosion of community, changed skills requirements and changes in their power base account for the main challenges. For managers, digitisation means that new forms of management may threaten their legitimacy and that skills requirements change, either during or after the process. For the social partnership, digitisation represents a double challenge, which firstly tends to shift the power base towards the management, and secondly may make it harder to identify a clear counterpart.

In Chapter 5 we discuss the kinds of general challenges that trade unions face when working life is digitised, and we highlight some strategies and initiatives that European trade unions have implemented in their encounter with digitisation processes. In Chapter 6 we draw on previous research conducted by Fafo to summarise the experiences that Norwegian trade union representatives have had with digitisation processes.

Chapter 7 is a checklist of items that the social partners should consider in change processes. In this chapter we outline some key questions and challenges the partners may encounter when the enterprise goes digital. In Chapter 8 we use the same checklist to describe the rights and duties of the partners in processes of digital transformation.

This report has a dual ambition: it can be read as a quick introduction to digitisation and the challenges and tools that the partners have at their disposal. Readers who are seeking for rules and regulations can go directly to Chapter 8 and use it as reference. For those who wish to study this topic in more detail, we have added a number of text boxes that provide examples of adjoining issues, with further elaboration.