Greater flexibility around organising in the trade union movement for the digital age is one of the greatest challenges for trade unions in the future, the ICTU conference heard earlier this week.
Speaking at a Fórsa’s fringe event at the conference, panellists raised the challenges facing the global trade union movement, and focused on organising in high-tech sectors.
Delegates heard of the difficulties experienced by union organisers including non-disclosure agreements, a culture of fear around speaking out, and the lack of a strong collective voice for this sector’s workers.
Chaired by incoming ICTU president and Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan, the event’s panel was made up of Fionnuala Ní Bhrógáin, of the Communications Workers Union, Gareth Murphy of the Financial Services Union, and Foxglove director Martha Dark.
The meeting acknowledged the significant financial clout of the sector and its anti-union nature, which presented a significant set of challenges to tackle the very low trade union density in this area.
Kevin Callinan said the aim of the event was to “highlight the pervasive effect of anti-union practices employed by tech giants on the rest of the economy and collective bargaining in general.”
He also added that the traditional ways of organising “will not cut it here”.
“Many young workers do not envision themselves staying at their current job indefinitely, so organising long-term around those fixed beliefs will not work. That needs to be integrated in the conversation around organising and planning going forward,” he said.
Fionnuala attributed the rapidly changing employment landscape in telecommunications sector in Ireland to the practice of employing outsourced content moderators, who are indirectly employed by these giants. “Many such contracts evade awarding these workers proper rights and work conditions since they aren’t directly employed by the parent company,” she said.
Fionnuala also applauded the extremely brave content moderators that have begun speaking out against the dire work practices recently.
“It cannot be overstated the damage that viewing graphic content has on the moderators. They are handed an NDA on the first day of work, instilling fear that they cannot speak about their work or its impact. Organising workers in this space will require unions to work together in Ireland and globally to tackle the enormous scale of this challenge,” said Fionnuala.
The event also heard that engaging with the already present natural organic networks of workers in this sector would be a starting point in mapping out the organising plan for the tech economy.
Martha Dark of Foxglove outlined the need for and importance of litigation for tech workers, and cited the large turnover of workers in companies such as Amazon, as the biggest challenge for unions.
“Unions seek to create meaningful long-term relations with workers. That is a particular challenge here. Which is why it is extremely important to introduce strategic litigation in organising these places to not only address issues around the high turnover rate but also target the root cause for why these workers are leaving.”
Martha also added that the lack of proper mental health supports was one of the leading reasons for the high turnover rate. “Even wellness coaches for Facebook moderators do not have the appropriate medical training required in many cases,” she said.
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