Authors: Fiammetta Fanizza,
Renato Rizzo


Executive Summary

1. An Industrial Relations concept

2. Industrial Relations facing technological innovation

3. Forcing limits of traditional trade unions' strategy

4. Telework and new bargaining demand

5. Social dialogue

6. Italy, Austria and Germany

7. Flexibility regulation and social security: a challenge for the Welfare State



Besides employers and employees, governments and institutional bodies have also become relevant actors in the Industrial Relations, with the aim to define policies related to new labours related problems.

New information and communication technologies and their particular characters determine deep changes in industrial organisation and, in particular, in work organisation. Relevant consequences are arising with regard to traditional content of Industrial Relations, such as professional skills, future career perspectives, work satisfaction, working time, etc.

The role of public authorities is to broaden the range of choices, eliminating constraints and, sometimes, to guarantee procedures. In addition, old tools of unionist bargaining have to be updated and to assume a different character, trying to improve worker's autonomy. At a general level, it emerges a need of a more consistent industrial democracy in a socio-economic framework continuously evolving towards the so-called globalisation.

Technological innovations, linked to networked and multimedia work development, clearly emphasise meanings and forms of distance working. During these last years, at organisational level, telework has enlightened a need of a flexible and not centralised management of the workforce, asking for a precise individualisation of formal relationship between parties, usually determined by national labour law.

A participative approach, arising from previous bargaining experiences in industrialised countries during the Seventies and the Eighties, is in the European Unions agenda, but their competence to negotiate introduction and modalities of applications is still limited and restricted. The possibility to participate to all phases of technological innovation, specifically within networked labour, could represent an opportunity. In particular, a new update tool for servicing unions' members needs is represented by the European Directive 94/45 related to institution of the "European Work Councils", concerning procedures for information and workers' consultation in companies or group of companies with a European dimension.

In fact, at European level, a new labour regulation framework begins to be shaped but it's true that for a correctly negotiated telework development some regulators needs still have a lot of issues to be deeply investigated.

The final, focused question is how to promote new Industrial Relations in a post-industrial society, avoiding the risk that in a new economic context they could slowly but progressively be weakened.

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1.- An Industrial Relations concept

Industrial Relations or Labour Relations, is an expression used not only for relationships between employers and Trade Unions, but also for those involving Government with the aim of defining policies, facing labour problems.

As Industrial Relations definition we can accept the concept of the outfit of:

Historically (in industrialised western countries) the various styles of relations can be summarised in a double typology: participative or conflicting ones:

highly regulated by government or less regulated by government
industry based or firm based

Drawing up collective agreements, i.e. the last step of a negotiation, is the traditional objective of the parties.

The customs across which rules have been accepted must be shared by Industrial Relations actors: employers' organisations, management and its organisations, State and institutional organisms, Trade Unions. All they aim to stipulate collective bargains to take under control social conflict.

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2. Industrial Relations facing technological innovation

Now, when Industrial Relations impact with new information and communication technologies, their traditional framework is deeply changing. In fact, Information Communication Technologies are:

Previous studies (in the Seventies and Eighties) have revealed how the introduction of new technologies can radically determine standards and types of employment in both regional and sector areas. Such changes themselves reflect mutations at industrial or organisational levels, as well as at the single job level.

At the organisational level (professional requirements, the workplace environment, health and safety in the workplace, future career prospects, work satisfaction, working hours and remuneration levels) constitute further aspects of working life which can be modified considerably by technological changes. These changes can, in fact, be even more striking in newly founded industries that incorporate the latest technological developments and working organisational models which are quite different from those already operating in the same sector, division or area.

Classical studies on technological innovation have focused on lack of direction in technological planning as a whole and disregard for the impact of any mutations. The impact on labour is more the result of a series of decisions made by those directly involved in introducing new technologies, including those who are responsible for the introduction of changes, for management norms, as well as those who have to work with the new technologies, i.e. the workers and their Trade Unions. In order to achieve specific organisational objectives, conscious technological choices may be adopted. For example, one particular technological option may be preferred on the basis of its potential to reduce costs or rationalise procedures, without taking into account the effect this can have on occupational levels or the physical conditions of the workers involved. The operational area which deals with technological choices has been described by several authors as a 'project area'.

When changes are programmed or carried out, technological choices may frequently be affected, unconsciously, where alternative technological options or 'project areas' are simply unknown or not taken into consideration. For example, in many industries, when a new data processing system is being developed, the systems analyst is never asked to consider the impact of the new system on the people who have to work with them, thus, the possibility of satisfying both economic and social objectives are never taken into account.

The choice for those who are directly involved in the implementation and management of the changes, may seem limited by the range of elements such as the economic position of the industry in question, temporal obligations, the lack of experience and organisational pressures. Such constraints can apply to Trade Unions representatives as much as to industrial management. The role of public authority is to broaden the range of choices, eliminating constraints and making alternative choices known to those directly involved. Furthermore, it must guarantee procedures which

insure that the best choices are introduced. This refers not only to the span of economic and social policies which accompany the changes, but also to those institutional regulations which are at the basis of the changes introduced at the work-place level.

3. Forcing limits of traditional trade unions' strategy

At a general level, one can understand that the dialectic between technology and Industrial Relations system appears in our post-industrial society very complex, in accordance with the difficulty of Trade Unions to face new processes of technological re-organisation.

After the advent of computer-based work in the Seventies, Trade Unions in industrialised countries discover their own methods inadequate to represent different positions and professional novelties from the labour market. While management strategies and practices often try to change some of the rules, or the whole Industrial Relations system, Trade Unions point concentrate their efforts on a new confederate organisational system. Consequently, the old tools of their action and, among these, the collective bargaining, assume a different character: they try to improve worker's autonomy, to reach the drawing of a more consistent level of industrial democracy.

Within a general framework of negotiation on technological innovations, Trade Unions warn either the crisis of previous organisational models (accompanied by a problem of decreasing representation), as well as the need of information and participation to choices concerning introduction of new technologies in traditional production processes.

In particular, Trade Unions try to define new strategies facing the problem of companies' re-organisation but also, in a broader sense, also to build new-styled agreements in a socio-economic framework more and more evolving towards the so-called "globalisation" of economy.

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4. Telework and new bargaining demand

In any case, it is necessary to consider that, in a next future, technological innovations will be linked to networked and multimedia development, emphasising meanings and forms of distance working, or telework (in its various typologyFootnote1 .

Generally, at European level, with regard to workers involved, the Industrial Relations framework has supplied with analogous extension of legal regulation, also if telework determines a substantial displacement of the "gravity centre" of the job contract. At organisational level, telework assumes a flexible and not centralised management of the work-force. So, it requires a precise individualisation of formal relationship between two parties, usually determined by national labour law.

A fundamental issue of telework related to Industrial Relations regards new skills and competencies. The loss of traditional skills is strictly related to the possibility of reaching new ones. More exactly, it is very important to deal with the new working aptitudes requested by these absolutely new material and immaterial conditions.

Even more, as many European experiences show, the flexibility increases the need of a regulating framework. Teleworkers, as persons involved in a social network, claim for a clear definition on references, generally refusing - if skilled - to work in a sort of "stand-by" form, or sometimes accepting it, if unskilled.

Nevertheless, the work flexibility needs rules enabling to exercise some fundamental rights. This is important for safeguarding the teleworker from the ambiguity linked to post-fordist new paradigms.


See MIRTI deliverable D04.1 Draft MIRTI Handbook.

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5. Social dialogue

In general, participation to decisions concerning technological innovation is a relevant problem for Trade Unions, but their competence to negotiate introduction and modality of technological applications is still limited and restricted. For this reason, a possibility to participate to all phases of technological innovation (design, planning, fulfilment and final evaluation) could represent an opportunity.

It is a matter of fact that particular changes determined by telework not only have impacts into traditional bargaining issues, but also refers to the whole social system. Telework in all its forms challenges Trade Unions to develop new organisational methods and tools of servicing their members' needs, updating their existing working stylesFootnote2.

A very important example of these new tools is represented by the European Directive 94/45 (22nd September 1994) related to institution of the "European Work Councils", concerning procedures for information and workers' consultation in companies or groups of companies with a European dimension.

This Directive represents a first example of a new point of view in European collective bargaining, establishing that in a European company with more than 1000 employees, and settled at least in two member States, an European Work Councils must be formed. A particular procedure is specifically devoted to inform and seek employees' advice on working life and on strategic choices even more at transnational level. It also faces the representation of rights in the workplace, the role and the possibility of groups' collective bargaining. The directive gives a relevant autonomy to the parties in defining informational right and workers transnational consultation. Each mechanism is adapted to the demand of social partners and of specific Industrial Relations traditions.

The Directive 94/95 is a fundamental step for the strengthening of European social dialogue and its correct application for democracy models development, trying to integrate companies' competitiveness improvement with workers' security and participation.

In fact, a new labour regulation framework begins to be shaped at European level. Many Trade Unions delegates, by a transnational practice of comparison, can understand the European dimension, and represent groups of transnational workers as a whole.

Now, the problem consists in developing new skills for negotiations, both by employees and employers, because the European Work Councils Directive can, consequently, modify transnational companies' strategies related to labour market.


See MIRTI deliverable D03.2 User needs and requirements.

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6. Italy, Austria and Germany

During the past, Trade Unions showed themselves not very ready to understand transformation in its structural and technical elements. Less involved in the discovery of the nature of innovation than in its consequences, they have substantially evolved, on the beats back in employment contest.

Far from the guaranties of Seventies, bargaining has applied to a more effective participation. Without forgetting traditional contents as wage, prevention, time and working conditions, Trade Unions concentrated particularly on the choice of procedures to be followed to define a climate of concertation, instead of conflict. Regarding technological innovation effects, particular attention has been paid to a concertative style for innovation systems and process applications.

In Italy, the most relevant example has been offered by "Protocollo IRI" (1984), a systematic framework of rules for preventing conflict between workers and the numerous IRI's companies.

During the Eighties, in Germany Trade Unions have been strengthening their effort to set up a network of more systematic information exchange and a co-ordination of collective bargaining policy, in particular at sector level. "Humanisation of work" (Humanisierung des Arbeitslebens) was the ambitious objective of a famous national programme, as an output of an intensive phase of Industrial Relations. The traditional policy of industrial rationalisation (and related protection agreements) of the eighties has been followed in the nineties mainly by firm based agreements regarding the flexibilisation of labour (especially of working-time) within limits established by industrial agreements.

Regarding Austria, economic and social policy is oriented to maintain employment levels, as well as towards social security. Two specific stability agreements offer a good contribution to Industrial Relations system: a collective one for the oil sector (including telework framework) and the electronic sector service agreement (flexibilisation of working time). Up to date, in Austria the Government does not exert any influence on collective bargaining negotiations, except where (public service sector) it is involved as a part for any collective agreement.

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7. Flexibility regulation and social security: a challenge for the Welfare State

If it's true that some initial European Work Councils' experiences can be an interesting support for a correctly negotiated telework development, nevertheless some regulation needs of distance working still have a lot of issues to be deeply investigated.

In this phase, the concept of flexibility - allowed by telework introduction - is at the same time the novelty and the most problematic aspect related to debate on Industrial Relations role and contents, asking for a constant correspondence to a continuous workplace transformation (in particular, in relation to time and space use).

In fact, the constant need to re-organise production and the importance of flexibility for a company's competitiveness on internal markets, have a significant impact on the Trade Unions activity. Similarly, the service sector, the Information and communication technologies related sectors and some so-called "atypical works" have continued to grow. This has a relevant repercussion for the labour market evolution and we are witnessing an increase in number and importance of workers whose juridical status is uncertain.

Public intervention may be necessary to maintain or adopt social security system in relation to labour market changes (increase of autonomous work, flexibilisation, etc.).

At a general level, the arising question is how to promote new Industrial Relations in a post-industrial society. More exactly, to understand if Industrial Relations will have or not a central role in a new developing socio-economic context or, on the contrary, they will slowly but progressively be excluded.
The Industrial Relations actors, as initially defined, are challenged by all these new phenomena, whose main focus is - probably - represented by the demand of a new harmonised balance between flexibility of working conditions and social security.

In the general Industrial Relations framework of industrialised countries, the theme of regulation - emphasised by these new phenomena - has now assumed a fundamental position, due to the fact of an additional connection to the basis itself of the classic, occidental idea of Welfare State.

In conclusion, this additional connection applies to the fact that MIRTI Project - and its final "Handbook" in particular (D06.2) - not only regards specific engineering issues in telework design, but also their related social contexts.

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This Report "Definition paper on models of Industrial Relations" has been produced by the MIRTI Project with the support of the European Commission's Telematics Applications Programme. Copyright is held by the main Contractors, Istituto Europeo di Studi Sociali (Rome),Gesellschaft fuer Urbanistik (Vienna), and Institut fuer Sozialwissenschaftliche Technikforschung (Dortmund). Parts of this document may be freely copied provided the source is clearly acknowledged. MIRTI "Definition paper on models of Industrial Relations" may not be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without the written permission of the copyright holders. Rome 1997.

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