European social partners’ approaches to Artificial Intelligence and Algorithmic Management

Section: Work and Equal Opportunities

This report of the INCODING project presents the insighta from interviews with European trade union, employer and business association representatives on the regulation and practice of artificial intelligencae and algorithmic management uses in the workplace.

We find that European social partners address the subject matter of AI and AM in ways that are similar to their general approaches to digitalisation. However, some challenges are thrown into sharper focus. It is not just trade unions that have difficulty in addressing cross-sectoral changes in which technologies, changing political economies of digitalising societies, and restructuring of value chains interrelate in a globally volatile environment. Employer organisations have difficulties in aggregating their members’ interests as well. They  tend to contain the issues of AI/AM at work, downplay its actual diffusion and largely to oppose further European regulation on the grounds of the burden it puts on companies. It is business and employer organisations with “special interests” such as WECGlobal and the Digital SME Alliance who favour some 'soft' regulatory support for their members’ interests. Some  individual companies also enter into social dialogue or continue it. Nevertheless, employer associations apparently rely on some slowing down of the process of regulation, pointing out that in most established industries uptake of AI and AM technologies is slow and incremental. This, however, is in strong contrast with the acceleration in competing for market shares that both AI tech providers and platform companies are pursuing in recent years.

Compared to employer and business organisations, European trade unions present a more coherent picture. Their cross-sectoral umbrella organisations ETUC and ETUI provide considerable expertise and interest aggregation. Strong national unions and those organising tech staff also contribute, and  bottom-up organising plays a large part in the platform economy. In contrast to their social partners, unionists have a sense of urgency that cannot rely on slow-moving EU regulation at large but must set steps in social dialogue on all levels simultaneously. Indeed, social dialogue and tripartite policy initiatives from EU member states have been influencing the Platform Directive especially, and the coordinated contacts with the European Parliament brought the AI Act to pay more attention to the world of work. However, initiatives for a dedicated Directive addressing AI and AM in the workplace at large will require ongoing political pressure, especially in the light of the “regulation fatigue” expressed (strategically) by the business side.

It remains to be seen how the interdependent web of bottom-up, national, and European initiatives of social dialogue, civil society and policy will manage to aggregate the diverse “old” and “new” interests and values of working people affected by the cross-cutting AI and AM technologies. They clearly need all the cooperation and mutual help they can get – and very likely, the division of policy domains in Europe between market regulation, employment and workplace regulation, and industrial policy needs to be complemented by more integrated views and ways and processes to develop them.

The report can be downloaded HERE.

Authors: Holtgrewe, U., Dworsky, L.

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Tags: algorithmic management, artificial intelligence, industrial relations, social partners

Category: Projektberichte

Publication Date: 2024

Procurement: Online (download)