Information Digest – April 2024

This month’s focus is on how digital technologies change workplace structures and how the quality of jobs is affected, women cleaners in London on the frontline for harassment and victimisation, let alone the low pay, hazards in the semiconductor industry in Korea, safe staffing levels in social care, more issues with just transitions with a positive program from union in Italy, green technologies that unionists are taking a leading role within construction, and community-union alliances in Minnesota, bridge collapse no accident: corporate negligence at many levels led to crash and deaths of workers and working hours reductions in Europe seem permanent.


Digitalisation and job quality—the evidence

Agnieszka Piasna

Report from the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI)

The increasing use of digital technologies in European workplaces is undeniable but its precise impact on the world of work remains to be determined. There is a growing consensus about transformative effects of digitalisation on the structure of employment, with the emergence of new occupations and the destruction of others. Research points to changes in the task content of jobs and the potential of digital technologies to automate human labour, which may lead to mass unemployment but also to potentially worker-friendly reductions in working hours.

Beyond the structural changes, however, what has been the impact on job quality and workers’ experiences at work? What are the differences in job quality between digitalised and non-digitalised work settings in otherwise similar jobs?

A recent report from the European Trade Union Institute sheds light on these questions. It analyses computerised systems that control or otherwise influence what workers do at work—such as surveillance technologies, tracking devices, artificial-intelligence solutions and productivity-enhancing digital tools. Workers exposed to such digital technology in European Union member states are compared with those who are not, in otherwise similar jobs and institutional settings.

Read the summary here.

You can download the full report here.

From the Workplace to the Streets: Women are Leading the Fight for a Fairer World

The Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union represents workers at the sharp end of oppression and exploitation: our 1,900 members are predominantly migrant workers largely from Latin American backgrounds, and almost entirely employed under various outsourcing arrangements within London’s cleaning industry – composed disproportionately of women.

Hired by a third party to undercut costs, subject to frequent changes of employer as contracts expire and are renegotiated and cut off entirely from the culture of their current employer’s workplace, these workers find themselves unseen and unconsidered, often condemned to a permanent state of limbo in which they are noticed and supported by no one.

Underneath the shiny, ‘feminist’ exterior of London’s corporations is an underbelly of hyper-exploitative outsourcing practices, harassment and discrimination. Of just a handful of recent campaigns at CAIWU: cleaners at Royal Bank of Canada are fighting against low wages, health and safety issues and redundancies. At ‘luxury’ co-working hub Mindspace, a cleaner faces immediate dismissal for refusing to have her hours halved by the outsourced management company Key Enviro Solutions.

In January 2024 alone, CAIWU won settlements totalling £47,000 for harassment, discrimination, unfair dismissal and victimisation in corporations across the capital.

Read the full article here.

With New Report on Workplace Toxins, Advocacy Group wants to end Worker Deaths at Samsung

Jang Hyeon-eun

Hwang Yu-mi died of leukemia in 2007 after being exposed to toxins while making semiconductors for Samsung — an advocacy group wants to ensure no more workers face the same fate.

A study by SHARPS (Supporters for the Health and Rights of People in the Semiconductor Industry) looks at hazardous chemical use and the resulting occupational diseases beyond the area of semiconductors — which has received major attention over the years — into more general areas of production at Samsung.

The publication coincides with the 17th anniversary of Hwang’s death on March 6, 2007, after she contracted leukemia while working at a Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory.

The report notes that the kinds of carcinogenic substances and toxins that can wreak havoc on the reproductive system cited in occupational diseases among Samsung semiconductor workers also make up a large proportion of the chemicals used for the production processes of other Samsung items such as batteries and cell phones.

Various labour unions at Samsung contributed to the report, including the National Samsung Electronics Union and the Samsung SDI, Samsung Electronics Service, and Samsung Electronics Sales chapters of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union. Their participation allowed for surveys and interviews with over 1,800 workers during the research process.

Read the full article here.

Establishing Safe Staffing in Health and Social Care

Jan Willem Goudriaan and Adam Rogalewski

Staff shortages represent a risk to occupational health and an EU directive should mandate member states to address them.

Even before the pandemic, the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) was underlining its gravity, on the European and global (via Public Service International) levels.

Our calls, along with the demands of other professional organisations, are increasingly reflected in initiatives by policy-makers—including the European region of the World Health Organization, the health ministers of Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development member states and the current Belgian presidency of the Council of the EU.  Health is mentioned in the EU action plan to tackle labour and skills shortages, published last week. And the EPSU has just presented its own report, seeking to address staff shortages in health and social care via dedicated directives—including one specifically on safe staffing levels.

Read the full article here.

The GKN Workers’ Fight Continues

The struggle for an ecological transition from below by Florence’s ex-GKN workers is alive

Lorezno Fe

On 9 July 2021, Melrose Industries announced the closure of its GKN Driveline (formerly FIAT) factory, which produces car axles in Campi di Bisenzio, Florence, and the layoff of more than 400 workers. While in many cases the workers and unions would settle for negotiating enhanced redundancy benefits, the GKN Factory Collective took over the plants and kickstarted a long struggle against decommissioning.

However, what makes the Ex GKN Florence dispute really unique is the strategy adopted by the workers. They sealed an alliance with the climate justice movement by drafting a conversion plan for sustainable, public transport and demanding its adoption. Their engendered a cycle of broad mobilisations – repeatedly bringing tens of thousands to the streets – with the dispute still open. Despite the intention for the workers to be dismissed on 1 January 2024, the permanent sit-in at the factory remains today.

Read the full article here.

Across Industries, Minnesota Workers Are Harnessing Their Collective Power

Amie Stager

Minnesota workers and community groups have worked toward this moment for over a decade. It’s paying off.

On Tuesday, March 5, around 1,000 nursing home workers filled the Minnesota Capitol grounds to picket for better wages and working conditions in what was the industry’s largest strike in the history of the state.

In addition to raising wages from $20 an hour or less to $25 an hour, nursing home workers also demanded paid time off, retirement benefits and the right to unionize.

The nursing home workers strike was part of a Week of Action to apply joint pressure on employers to meet workers’ demands. The campaign, dubbed ​“What Could We Win Together?” has been praised as a model for the strategic alignment of unions, along with community groups, to maximize leverage.

Janitors, teachers, construction workers all participated in pushing for community gains across all workplaces.

Read the full article here.

This Emerging Green Technology Could Decarbonize Buildings and Provide Good Union Jobs

Sara Van Horn

In New York and states across the country, thermal energy networks are helping unite the climate and labor movements while hastening a just transition away from fossil fuels.

An award-winning design for a ​“thermal energy network” caught the eye of John Murphy. The design was part of a proposal to decarbonize Empire Plaza in Albany, N.Y., and it featured a series of underground water pipes that balanced the heating and cooling systems of adjacent buildings.

As the International Representative of the New York State Pipe Trades Association, which represents around 25,000 workers across New York State, Murphy had been searching for an renewable energy solution for his members. In his seven years in the position, he has seen how some of the state’s current approaches to the clean energy transition — namely closing power plants without providing alternate jobs — have often left his members unemployed. Without work, they have typically been forced to travel out-of-state to find a job ​“just to continue their medical coverage, feed their families, and maintain a pension credit,” according to Murphy.

Murphy says that thermal energy networks provide ​“as close to a just transition as you will find in the energy transformation that we’re seeing.”

Read the full article here.

Baltimore Bridge Collapse: How Exploitation Caved in on itself and led to Worker Deaths

Natalia Marques

“Before colliding with the bridge, the vessel, known as the Dali, sent out a distress signal, providing enough time for traffic to be stopped at both ends of the bridge. However, a road repair crew remained on the bridge and was not evacuated, resulting in the probable deaths of the six construction workers.”

On Tuesday night, March 26, the United States Coast Guard announced that it had stopped its search for six workers who went missing when a massive Maersk cargo ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. In addition to the six workers that have not been found, two bodies were found in a submerged pickup. Danish shipping company Maersk, which chartered the ship, had been sanctioned by the US Labor Department eight months prior to the crash for retaliating against a worker who had reported unsafe working conditions aboard a Maersk-operated vessel—which revealed that the shipping company had a policy of forcing employees to first report safety concerns to the company rather than relevant authorities such as the Coast Guard.

The Maersk whistleblower was first disciplined, then fired after reporting leaks, unpermitted alcohol consumption onboard the vessel, inoperable lifeboats, faulty emergency fire suppression equipment, and other concerns to the federal government.

Maersk is one of the largest shipping companies in the world, raking in USD 51 billion in revenue in 2023, and has spent this money lobbying federal regulators and suing trade unions.

Video footage shows the ship suffering several power outages before crashing.

Read the full article here.

For more on the bridge disaster, click here to read the article by Sonali Kolhatkar, Corporate Profiteering Destroyed the Baltimore Bridge.

Why the Reduction in European Workers’ Hours after the Pandemic is here to Stay

Diva Astinova, Romain Duval, Niels-Jakob Hansen, Hyun Woo “Ben” Park, Ippei Shibata, Frederik Toscani

Three years after the COVID-19 crisis, average hours per worker in Europe have not recovered to their pre-pandemic level. This column explains that this decline is not cyclical but predominantly structural, extending a long-term trend that predates COVID-19, and also predominantly reflects worker preferences. The trend fall in average hours worked seems unlikely to reverse. Policy reforms could help involuntary part-timers and women with young children work more as they desire, but the associated boost to EU-wide average hours worked would at most reverse only about one-fifth of its drop in the last two decades.

Read the full article here.

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