BWI goes to Germany for a study visit on digitalisation and work design

BWI, in cooperation with IG Metall, organised a two-day study visit from 31 March to 1 April on digitalization and work design at the Ruhr-University’s Learning and Research Factory in Bochum, Germany. 

The study visit, which was also supported by the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation (FES), aimed to develop proposals and concepts on how to positively use digitisation in the fight against wage and social dumping, and promote transparent working time records and protection of workers’ rights. It also wants to provide a venue to share existing work and initiatives on the matter, and take advantage of digitisation to enable and promote training and further education. 

The study visit was participated by eighteen members of BWI’s Technical Ad-hoc Working Group Future of Work, as well as by national and local union leaders and experts from Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Kenya, Malaysia and Turkey. Experts, facilitators and organisers from the Ruhr University, IG Metall and BWI also joined the initiative. 

The participants were familiarised with IG Metall’s “Work+Innovation” project and its approach towards shaping the 4th Industrial revolution according to workers’ terms. The needs of employers who focus on technology, such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, assistance systems, robotics and software platforms and how to merge them with the needs of works councils that focus on the work design, including employment, organization of work, qualification and data security, were also discussed. 

The participants also discussed ways on how workers and their union representatives can become integral parts of the changes that digitalisation brings in transforming tasks, workplaces and production processes. They said that these changes have a profound impact on workers and unions that are seeking out appropriate responses and alternatives. 

To aid the participants’ deliberations and designing of work processes, practical exercises and mutual assessments were introduced at the Learning Factory. A factory tour at the Nolte Küchen GmbH & Co. KG, a kitchen furniture factory, was also part of the programme to provide the participants a glimpse on the actual application of new technologies, robots and assistance systems in the production. The Works council and the management explained how the introduction of new technologies (robots and assistance systems) have led to an increase in employment even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It said that this allowed the company to respond better to consumer demands amidst a very competitive market. Social dialogue amidst a high union density, good health and safety standards and a vibrant collective bargaining process between IG Metall were also highlighted as important contributors to better regulate working time.

“For BWI, digitalisation is a positive development if it leads to more sustainable production methods, provides new training and work opportunities, especially for youth and women and makes workplaces safer. For workers, it could also mean fewer working hours, increased productivity and better pay, and more time for their loved ones. However, for this to happen, workers have to be the direct beneficiaries of the future of work. The union representatives must possess the necessary knowledge and abilities to shape technological changes in a proactive and participatory manner, and negotiate and implement provisions of collective bargaining agreement on training and other benefits,” BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson said.


“The study visit to the Learning factory in Bochum truly inspired the participants on how trade unions can collaborate with universities, industry players and governments to prepare workers’ representatives for the future of work. We are thankful to IG Metall for this excellent experience and for their encouragement. Our affiliates will bring all the good lessons from this study visit as we push our work on this area forward,” said Josef Muchitsch, Chair of the BWI Ad-hoc Working Group Future of Work. 

The study visit concluded with a visit to IG Metall’s Regional Office for Central Ruhr at the Century Haus (Jahrhunderthaus). It was hosted by Volker Strehl, 2nd authorized representative of IG Metall Central Ruhr area, and Christian Iwanowski, member of the collective bargaining negotiation team of IG Metall North Rhine-Westphalia NRW. The participants learned more about the activities of IG Metall at the Central Ruhr area where the union has members in 216 companies, including the wood and furniture industry. 

The study visit enabled participating BWI affiliates to identify key inputs on how trade unions can more effectively lobby and negotiate better working conditions, more skills trainings and employment opportunities. These will be gathered and presented for inclusion in BWI’s new strategic plan which will be adopted at the global union’s 5th World Congress.