As the High Court has just ruled against the Independent Workers of Great Britain on their judicial review application against the Central Arbitration Committee, which had held that Deliveroo riders were not workers or employees entitled to collective bargaining, this reminds that we are going through a significant period of change. So many more people are now part of the gig economy and the law does not yet recognise they have rights to do things like choose union representation for collective bargaining.
That decision will probably go on appeal, but meantime it is worth noting how much use trade unions are now making of new ways to connect all sorts of workers with each other and with the union.
The online groups now available to workers, designed to facilitate collective action, mean that conventional trade union recruiting at the workplace is probably no longer the best way to gain members. Indeed, in some cases the unions may themselves be redundant if workers self-organise, but in reality it will pay unions to be part of the connecting that online groups enable. Many unions may in different countries build their influence and membership by visibility and support to online organised collective action.
This new way of organising workers can work well in single locations, nationally or even across numerous countries. There are examples of groups supporting workers in multinationals where old fashioned union organising would be very hard. Union recruiting has in some instances included self-employed individuals. Why not if they want union support.
Therefore, while technology may be disrupting jobs and threatening robotic replacement of humans at work, new technologies are also enabling trade unions to fight back and create significant impact through online organising.
Human Resources may at times be taken by surprise how a social media campaign can build a head of steam. People working for the company, permanent or gig, may be able to quickly draw on widespread support of colleagues. A wise employer will be trying to keep ahead of the curve and build networks their staff can benefit from in which the employer is engaged in some meaningful way. It gives a new dimension to employee engagement and mechanisms of employee dialogue. Generally, businesses have yet to modernise their employee engagement to reflect these new technological realities.
The future of work may be a big topic of concern to unions challenged by potential membership loss in years to come, but no one should imagine that there will not be organised resistance to employers choosing technology over human workers.
Human Resources will have a lot to do for many years to come, and need not yet fear replacement by Artificial Intelligence controlling a robotic workforce!
7th December 2018