Basque government focus in on AI Act

Joint event examines the latest developments in digitalisation.

download (5)

On March 15th we were delighted to host policymakers, academics and sectoral experts in sunny Bilbao, with the EU’s AI Act and the impact of digitalisation on European workplaces up for discussion. Co-funded by the Basque government our event, Artificial Intelligence in the workplace: What next for the protection of European workers? featured input from MEPs Eider Gardiazabal Rubial and Iban García del Blanco, EU-OSHA’s Executive Director William Cockburn Salazar, Pablo García Bringas, Vice-Dean of Engineering at Deusto University, President Basque Country Council of Labour Relations Board Emilia Málaga, Johan Holm, Associate professor at Umeå University, Vice Minister of Labor and Social Security of the Basque Government Elena Pérez Barredo and Eurocadres Vice-President Paula Ruiz Torres.

The event sought to outline how collective bargaining, sectoral agreements and, ultimately, European legislation must be in place to ensure national governments and labour authorities utilise best practices in protecting workers from the challenges posed by AI. With governments such as that of the Basque country having been proactive in addressing these emerging risks, we can draw on a wide array of experiences to provide professionals and managers with policies which balance productivity with the need for adequate health and safety provisions.

In addition to co-funding this event, the commitment of our hosts to delivering in this area was made clear in opening remarks from Idoia Mendía Cueva, Second Vice-lehendakari and Minister of Labor and Employment of the Basque Government, who emphasised the need for adaptation to ensure we deliver fair results, “rule out new gaps, and to guarantee the integrity of workers, their health, well-being and rights". Speaking to the division of competencies, the Minister stated that the prevention of psychosocial risks and preventing algorithms from being used as a tool of discrimination in access to employment were some of the “immediate challenge that Europe must address”. All of these changes cannot come from legislation, with company culture needing to “invest in human capital as their main competitive value, and promote a transition to a new business culture where formulas of greater well-being, satisfaction and commitment of employees are introduced, also with the direct participation of workers when strategic decisions are made”.

"Our challenge, as trade unions and as workers, is to steer a path to a better world of work" - Eurocadres President Nayla Glaise

Outlining the pressing need for measures that professionals and managers face, Eurocadres President Nayla Glaise remarked that “managerial staff rank second in all professions for weekly hours worked on average in Europe (43.3), with 44% working outside working hours because they are unable complete the tasks within working hours. 67% of managers feeling obliged to respond to communication outside working hours and digitalisation, while not the sole cause of these statistics, is a significant contributor to the “always on” culture we are now facing”.

“Workers must have an active role deciding how these technologies change their daily lives. They must be empowered to seize the opportunities that digitalisation presents. They must be aware of how surveillance and monitoring is conducted, able to object to dystopian practices, and, above all else, offered the expertise and protection they deserve. Failure to do so will result in further declining mental health outcomes, continued burnout of our workforce, longer hours and less work/life satisfaction”.

During our concluding panel debate, Eurocadres Vice-President Paula Ruiz Torres spoke to the need for “better protection and legislation, which must be informed by expert input and best practices”.  Having addressed the existing gaps in relation to psychosocial risks workers are exposed to day in and day out, the role for collective bargaining and sectoral agreements was addressed, while pointedly showing “we need to introduce non-negotiable minimum standards to protect workers, wherever they work, from potential risks”.

While we cannot claim to have all the answers, we do know that more can be done to ensure oversight in the use of technologies at work, and that gaps must be filled in regards to expertise, data processing and future uses of AI systems. Ultimately, any advancement in technology must be matched by adaption in legislation, and that is where we wish to see discussions move in the coming months. Both nationally at UGT and in Europe through Eurocadres, trade unionists will continue to be at the forefront of calls for further protection, adequate provisions and quality jobs”.

A full recording of the event, including the presentation of Dr Johan Holm, can be found below.