The OECD and the representatives of its 34 member countries met from 21 to 23 June in Cancun, Mexico, on the subject of the digital economy. During this initiative, Up Group gave a talk about the new models for allocating value. What is the message of TUAC, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD?
TUAC is the spokesperson for trade unions at the OECD. What was your contribution at the last meeting on the digital economy?
Labor laws obviously do not apply properly in many of the business models of the digital economy. The case of Uber is emblematic. However, it isn’t up to the law to adapt to the digital economy, in fact what we need is the reverse; otherwise we would be backsliding. This is the message that we carry to the OECD but also to the G20 where we are also the mouthpiece of the unions. Workers who are considered to be « self-employed » should be able to organize to acquire employee status, which they deserve! If we do not take into account the social consequences of this fragmented type of work, it will become a source of increased insecurity and inequality.
Poverty and inequality are subjects that you have especially focused on since the 2008 crisis, has this been heard by the OECD?
The fight against mass unemployment is offset by increased job insecurity. With the combined effect of austerity policies and « structural » reforms and their constant demand for increased labor flexibility, this is resulting in insufficient internal demand and in growth that is too anemic. As a whole, there has been an explosion of inequalities, not only between countries but within the countries themselves. A trade union priority in these past years has been for the OECD to recognize the increased inequality, social injustice, and economic inefficiency that this explosion is generating. Recognizing this however is one thing, now we need to act!
« Fair transition » is a concept you have put forward. Could you tell us about this concept?
Originally, it applies to climate change, namely the need to not have employees bear the brunt of the cost of the transition to a low-carbon economy. But this also applies to the development of the digital economy, which is a factor in both creating and destroying jobs in many sectors. Access to vocational training is a key point in these transitions that are now at work.
In this transitioning context do you see that governments are perhaps less inclined to negotiate?
In most of the OECD countries – and in countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Finland and South Korea – we see this resolve of governments to force change « top down », in the name of these « structural » reforms they claim are inevitable. Whereas in fact, it is of course through social dialogue and consultation that confidence can be restored and that one can lay the foundations for sustainable growth!
What are the links between TUAC and national trade unions?
Although our primary mission is trade union advocacy at the OECD and the G20, we naturally give feedback to 44 union confederation members on what is happening in these institutions, the ongoing debates, and how emerging issues are apprehended in these bodies.
The OECD’s capacity to influence is not very visible; in what way is this institution useful?
The OECD perhaps has less visibility than other international organizations, like the IMF. The OECD operates very far upstream of policy-making. Its reports and ensuing recommendations are less publicized but they have a definite influence. For instance, the OECD, through its guidelines for multinational enterprises, plays an important role in the debate on the social responsibility of business at the international level. TUAC has a role of alerting the public and, since 2000, trade unions have raised more than 100 alerts about breaches of the guidelines which are supposed to apply.
For more information, go to www.tuac.org
Photo credit: TUAC, John Evans