07 December, 2020

The Telecom Social Dialogue Committee Joint Declaration on Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence: a blueprint for unions and telecom companies

Technology and digital innovation have drastically transformed work and employment in unprecedented ways. Though they are not new as such, AI technologies have gained new momentum and, together with big data and robotics, they have rapidly evolved and changed the way we work. These technologies are expected to significantly impact the labour market of the future, particularly as traditional jobs and tasks transform or disappear, and new ones emerge.

The European social partners in the telecom sector, UNI Europa ICTS and ETNO, acknowledge the beneficial potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for innovation, e.g. in the area of medicine, mobility or communication.

In the employment context, AI systems could take over repetitive or dangerous jobs, enabling workers to focus on more significant or creative tasks. More broadly, the implementation of AI systems should ideally improve the citizen’s life and benefit not only people, but also the planet by driving solutions to combat climate change.

Nevertheless, with new technologies come both opportunities and challenges. In the case of AI, the challenges we must tackle are related to skills and training, health and safety, ethics, privacy and data protection, equality and fundamental rights[1].

We appreciate the work already undertaken at European level, especially regarding the development of ethical and trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. The Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI and the Policy and Investment Recommendations for Trustworthy AI, from the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence[2] as well as the Commission’s White Paper on AI[3] are particularly valuable contributions.

With this Joint Declaration, the European social partners in the telecom sector wish to contribute to the general debate on AI and to provide guidance to the sector stakeholders regarding the opportunities and the risks that AI represents.

We favour a humans-in-command approach to AI, meaning that humans should remain in control of all technology[4]. We also firmly support respect for human rights as a cornerstone value in the use of all AI technology. AI and other emerging technologies should not hinder individual well-being and help build a sustainable and inclusive society.

As social partners, our responsibility is to help shape how AI systems are designed, developed, and regulated, and to raise awareness about ethical concerns among AI developers and users.

Without social dialogue, we cannot build the best strategy for AI. European trade unions and employer organisations as social partners have an essential role to play in resolving complex questions regarding employment, training, the nature of work, inequality, and social protection systems. Decision-makers at the national and EU levels must listen to and cooperate with both unions and employers. And we must all recognise and use the expertise of those who are immediately involved in, or affected by, the design and use of AI systems. On a practical level, social partners should take part in establishing appropriate norms and implementation mechanisms, developing and monitoring training, and governing accountability.

This Joint Declaration is our blueprint for the social partners in the telecom sector to roll-out a flexible framework for ethical AI across countries and across all levels (European, national and local). It provides the key principles agreed upon by both Trade Unions and telecom companies, with a view of creating the basis for the use of AI to the benefit of both societal and economic objectives.

Read the full Declaration at the link below. 

 This Declaration was Approved by the Parties on November 30th, 2020

[1] Cf. ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, https://www.ilo.org/declaration/thedeclaration/textdeclaration/lang--en/index.htm

[2] High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, European Commission (April 2019): Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI. Brussels: European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/futurium/en/ai-alliance-consultation/guidelines and AI HLEG, EU (June 2019): Policy and Investment Recommendations for Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. Brussels: European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/policy-and-investment-recommendations-trustworthy-artificial-intelligence .

[3] European Commission (February 2020): White Paper On Artificial Intelligence - A European approach to excellence and trust. Brussels: European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/commission-white-paper-artificial-intelligence-feb2020_en.pdf

[4] This approach has also been adopted by the European cross-sectoral social partners in their recent Framework Agreement on Digitalisation, https://www.etuc.org/system/files/document/file2020-06/Final%2022%2006%2020_Agreement%20on%20Digitalisation%202020.pdf

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