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German minister presents digital workforce shakeup

The government has revealed long-planned proposals for adaptation to a digital working world. They call for greater social protections and better documentation as work becomes more flexible.

Germany's Labor Minister Andrea Nahles says every employee in Germany should be assigned a work activity account in which all employment and related information is stored.

The account would be used to document an individual's lifetime work and training and could be used to calculate social benefits.

The key proposal came as Andrea Nahles unveiled the government's blueprint for the future of work in the digital era in Berlin Tuesday. In a speech entitled "New social compromises for the working world" she said Germany needed to adapt to the vast economic changes brought on by new technology while retaining its social benefits.

The 200-page report known as the White Book for Work 4.0 is the culmination of a project that began in April 2015. It involved consultations with 12,000 citizens, 200 experts, unions, industry groups, companies and a variety of social organizations and addresses concerns Germany could be falling behind other countries as they adapt to digitalization.

"We do not know what the working world will look like in future," she said. "Rigid structures and hierarchies are giving way" to "work in the cloud."

Technology would continue to break down barriers, Nahles said, citing the use of industrial robots to replace human labor as an example. This, she said, had opened these jobs to women.

Women, "and to a certain extent, increasing numbers of men" were therefore calling for greater flexibility in their work, she said.

Nahles, a member of the Social Democratic Party, the junior member of Germany's grand coalition government, called for a two-year trial period in which more flexible work structures, including work hours, are tested.

A bigger safety net

At the same time, Nahles said, the end of the classic eight-hour day and greater mobility between jobs meant there was a need for a stronger social security system.

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Digital lag plaguing Germany

Part of this would be a new form of employment insurance, she said. A first step would involve expanding Germany's current unemployment benefits to place greater emphasis on job retraining.

Digitalization also meant the need for strengthened data protection, Nahles said, calling for EU information-security legislation to be brought up to date.

"Data security requires trust," she said.

Union support

Her proposals had already earned the backing of IG BCE union boss Michael Vassiliadis. Germany's unions have generally expressed skepticism towards calls for greater flexibility, seeing them as an opportunity to weaken worker protections.

Speaking in Hanover Monday night, Vassiliadis called the White Book "an important contribution to the preventive and systematic identification of possible changes that could affect the working world in the course of digitization."

sgb/hg (dpa, AFP)

 

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