As the song says “the times they are a-changin’” and, with them, the realities of the job market and its characteristics. Proof of this is the impact of technological development and advances in robotics on the social order.
Beyond the traditional types of work regulated under current legislation, these factors are constructing a new “universe” of labor relations which, as such, is not contemplated within the current legislative framework.
There are no specific statutory provisions regarding the use of digital devices, the new forms of collaborative economy and the possibility of teleworking or smart working, although they are increasingly common practice at companies. Not to mention robotics, a clearly expanding galaxy no longer so far away.
Faced with this situation, we might well ask: Houston, do we have a problem?
In other words, should lawmakers intervene and fill in these legal “voids” in order to give legal certainty to labor relations? Or, since their scope can not yet be measured, is it better to stay on the sidelines and for legislation to be adapted to this new reality by means of court judgments or collective bargaining?
There are examples of both approaches: the first in France, through the “El Khomri” law, which recognizes the right (albeit not absolute) to disconnect from work; and the second in Spain where, despite unsuccessful efforts to regulate “digital disconnection” in law, there are already instances of companies that have recognized this right in their collective labor agreements or where, in light of the absence of “up-to-date” legislation on teleworking, company policies and implementation agreements are taking on increasing importance.
While this dilemma is being resolved, situations lacking specific regulation may arise, as controversial as the case of a Belgian company that implanted microchips in its employees’ hands to replace the traditional company ID card, a step that was followed in July by another US company.
Going further still, based on a somewhat dystopian vision, it cannot be ruled out that botsourcing (using robots to replace human labor) could lead to significant job destruction, with the potential effects this may have on government revenue (personal income tax and social security contributions, among others).
These are scenarios which, at the very least, lead us to question what the role of lawmakers, judges and social partners is (or should be) in light of this new reality. Will they allow this new “universe” of labor relations to become an asteroid on a collision course with job stability, or will they turn it into a shining star that exudes light, contributing to its improvement and adaptation to “modern times”?
Garrigues Labor and Employment Law Department