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The challenges of Smart Working: an issue to be problematized

Tania Scacchetti, Confederal Secretary CGIL National

Much is being written these days on the topic of Smart Working (SW).

It is certainly done because of the realization that sudden change is rapidly turning into a permanent revolution.

If in fact there is no doubt that in these months there has been no real Smart Working but rather a forced experience of remote work, often practiced in an autarchic and experimental way, dictated by the need to protect health and the need to avoid as much as possible movements and assemblages, it is equally true that these months have allowed to focus on the advantages and opportunities, especially in terms of cost reduction, for companies, and have also indicated a general agreeability for workers, in many circumstances also ready to give up some rights to have access to agile work.

It is therefore useful to set aside the one-sided interpretations that sometimes fascinate the press, which go from the optimistic and progressive story of those who see in SW the cure for all ills, the tool to be spread everywhere to assert the right to reconciliation and individual freedom to the story of those who read it as a tool for new determination of inequality and reduction of rights.

Smart working, depending on the subjective conditions of those who practice it and on the organizational modalities with which it is proposed, can lead to both of these outcomes.

For this reason, it is useful to avoid generalizations and to pause to reflect on and investigate some of the points and issues that this transformation raises, also by reading the agreements that, fortunately and despite the absence of legislative obligations, are being signed in many countries.

I would like to indicate three of them, which certainly do not claim to be exhaustive, but which seem to me to be worthy of further study.

The first point concerns the risk of a transformation without a real project to revise organizational, productive and also cultural processes in companies or public administrations.

It would therefore be a matter of giving continuity to the partial or total remotization of work, but without starting from a reading of organizational processes, from a change in corporate culture in a more collectivist sense, from a different managerial approach and involvement of corporate skills.

Everything indicates that in these cases the critical issues, especially in the medium to long term, risk outweighing the benefits: accentuation of gender gaps, risk of segregation and isolation, impoverishment of relationships and professional growth.

The second aspect concerns the impact of Smart working on contractual dynamics.

In the absence of a role for collective bargaining, even recovering the individual agreement, there would still not be sufficient guarantees to take into account individual social needs that are more yielding than the needs of productivity and organizational adaptations. Therefore, it is not “only” the issue of meal vouchers, but of the discussion concerning working hours, rest times, the forms of exercise of executive power and their boundaries, the issue of redistribution of wealth produced and savings generated, the issue of tools and the right to privacy and data protection.

It is therefore no coincidence that the best experiences, the most significant and considered most effective are those in which there is comparison and union agreement, because they are based on principles of collaboration and coordination.

Finally, the third and last aspect that deserves attention concerns the indirect changes that this transformation proposes, in habits, in mobility processes, in the sharing of family responsibilities, in the configuration of city services. These are all issues that also force the Trade Union to reflect deeply on how to bring these reflections back to a collective dimension in the face of a process of individualization that the pandemic risks having accentuated.

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