PSI launches new report on digitalisation and public services from a labour angle

PSI launches on 7 October its first overarching research on the impact and policy implications of digital technologies on public services and workers.

The report “Digitalisation and Public Services: a labour perspective” provides a global overview and policy guidance for public services unions to ensure digitalisation lives up to its promise to enhance public service quality, effectiveness and accessibility for users, while improving working conditions and creating decent employment opportunities.

It was commissioned by PSI with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), and prepared by Eckhard Voss (WMP) and Raquel Rego (University of Lisbon). The summary report was prepared by the PSI Secretariat.

The research is based on the review of all main PSI sectors and on an interview sample of 20 public service trade unions representatives from all continents. The findings show that much of the impact of digital technologies on public services depends on how these are regulated and used, and on whether workers and their unions have a say or not on their development and introduction at the workplace. It demonstrates that digital technologies can simultaneously:

  • Improve public service quality and access and contribute to democratic accountability and citizens’ trust in public institutions, while advancing workers’ occupational health and safety (OSH)

  • Open the door to public service privatization, create a dangerous dependency of public institutions on private digital technology providers, and deepen inequalities among public service users.

The review also finds that:

  • The introduction of digital technologies in public services is frequently driven by private corporate interests

  • Corporate-led digitalisation is regularly associated with major public service user and data privacy abuse, resulting in a worsening of public service quality and efficiency

  • Cost-cutting driven digitalisation tends to replace and slash public service jobs. It often uses new technologies for worker surveillance and performance monitoring, increases working time and extends job tasks

  • It is urgent to establish an adequate regulatory framework for the introduction and use of digital technologies in public services and their workplaces. To be in the public interest and to ensure decent working conditions for public service workers, regulation must be developed in close dialogue with public services workers and their trade unions through meaningful participation, information and consultation, and by negotiating relevant wording in collective agreements.

Photo: José Camó

Commenting on the report, PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli said:

"Digitalisation and artificial intelligence are changing the way public services function for both users and public service workers. The way governments deal with the digitalisation process will influence those changes. Their actions will have negative outcomes if governments see digitalisation as a way to outsource functions, further abdicating their responsibilities and power. On the other hand, positive results could flow from governments leading the digitalisation process, defining rules, setting limits and implementing control procedures that can improve working conditions for public employees and make services more responsive and accessible for users.”

Documents for download