The Corona pandemic is speeding up digitalisation and trade unions must keep pace with developments. The trend towards home offices is causing a dissolution of company structures and requiring changes in communication. New digital channels are emerging and replacing the traditional physical contact.
For trade unions, COVID-19 has created new hurdles for their daily work. It is a challenge to reach out to workers without being able to contact them face to face. In principle, union access to workers is recognised in case law. However, routines for contacting remote workers have not normally existed in the companies and some unions have met with opposition related to data security from the side of the management.
But where there are problems, there are also solutions. In Germany, IG BCE has recently signed a pioneer agreement that can inspire sister unions across Europe. In the German rubber industry, trade unionists from now on have a legal right to access teleworkers. This new agreement is a novelty in the field of trade union rights, as it enables communication with teleworkers in order to recruit members, defend their rights and to take collective decisions at the same time as data protection is observed.
From now on, around 30,000 workers in 100 rubber companies nationwide can be reached via:
- Video conference software
- Digital blackboards
- Company mailing lists
The specific arrangements in each company will be agreed on by the local Social Partners. This will be essential to a successful partnership and to prevent conflicts due to lack of information.
IndustriAll Europe’s Deputy General Secretary, Isabelle Barthès, praises the creative achievement of IG BCE:
"Social dialogue in the companies can only function with internal communication and codetermination on the workers’ side. This innovative agreement is a great model for other sectors and countries to follow."