Advances in technology - such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics – that are transforming workplaces should cause governments to act to put the digital transformation onto a sustainable footing, according to a coalition of labor groups.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) are warning about the social effects of technological change and insisting that these should not spell the end of workers’ rights, including the right to collective bargaining.

The warnings about the effect of technology on jobs and working conditions comes as the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of work launches a major interim report, Working for a Brighter Future, examining the impact of digitalisation on the labour market.

The ILO agrees that technological advances will create new jobs but cautions that those who lose their jobs in this transition may be the least equipped to seize the new opportunities. Christophe Degryse, Head of the ETUI’s Foresight Unit, has previously flagged up the risk of increasing social polarisation due to digitalisation and automation.

The ILO report also addresses action to tackle environmental challenges, noting that ‘…greening of economies will create millions of jobs as we adopt sustainable practices and clean technologies but other jobs will disappear as countries scale back their carbon- and resource-intensive industries.’ Technology and the environment were major themes at the ETUI-ETUC conference, the Worlds of Work in Transition, in June 2018 and form a significant strand of the work of the ETUI’s ‘Foresight’ and Research units. Bela Galgoczi, ETUI Senior Researcher and author of a recent ILO report on the need for a Just Transition to a cleaner but job-rich economy, said ‘the aim of policymakers should be decent work for all in a net zero-carbon inclusive society together with with the eradication of poverty.’