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Editorial: New ways of working challenges the social contract

| By Berit Kvam

“Do your duty, claim your right” describes the relationship between the individual and society. As more work becomes platform-based and cut into little pieces, the basis for taxes could be depleted, and the social contract broken. What is duty and what is right when crowdwork changes labour’s form and content? Can society’s institutions keep up? Can trade unions, or the labour law? And what exactly is crowdwork?

“Make adult and further education mandatory” is one of Poul Nielson’s 14 proposals for how to develop Nordic labour market cooperation over the coming five to ten years. That might be needed in the face of the rapid technological development, where even the terminology is incomprehensible for many. If the Nordic region is to maintain its lead in the face of global competition, he writes, slogans like ‘jobs for all’ must be changed to ‘everyone should be entitled to a safe and decent life’. This is reminiscent of a citizen’s income. Does that mix with crowdwork?

The crucial point is whether the welfare state can keep up with developments and secure a good working life through such a distribution of goods. 

The labour law, meant to protect the weaker part in an employment relationship, is threatened by market thinking, writes Kerstin Ahlberg. While authorities promise that permanent employment will remain the norm, a fragmented labour market and short term contracts is becoming the new reality. An increasing number of people inside and outside of the labour market are facing unreliable incomes.

Swedish Anna Breman provides a good example of the future challenges in her report for the Swedish government, ’The Future of Work’. She writes how Microsoft bought the computer came Minecraft in 2014 for 2.5 billion dollars, while Volvo a few years earlier was sold to Chinese Geely for 1.3 billion dollars. While Volvo employed 21,000 people, Mojang employed 39. She also writes how several studies show that around half of all jobs could disappear as a result of digitalisation and new technologies. 

The trade union movement must get involved before the sharing economy – or the platform economy as Fredrik Söderquist from the Swedish Unionen trade union prefers to call it – explodes. He does not fear the future. This development is impossible to stop, but regulations are needed and the trade unions must find new roles in order to secure the support from people who are working through new platforms.

In his challenges and proposals for the Nordic labour market, Poul Nielson points to the role of the state, which should be to support the organisations’ work to find solutions to the challenges, in order to “secure a functioning balance between the public’s social system and the conditions of this different part of the labour market”. 

This is where things get creaky. How do you make sure the new types of labour does not tip the balance? How do you safeguard the social contract? And what exactly is crowdwork? Read this month’s theme: A labour market without work contracts.

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