Union boss warning

The Human Cost of Digitization

Reiner Hoffmann worries that new technology firms such as Uber are not looking out for their workers.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    German unions fear that workers rights will be diluted or forgotten in the rush to digitization.

  • Facts


    • The federal government’s Industry 4.0, Economy 4.0 and Work 4.0 plans are aimed at digitizing its economy.
    • The country has fallen behind rivals such as the United States in its bid to digitize.
    • Unions believe some digital firms, such as taxi service Uber, run roughshod over workers’ rights.
  • Audio


  • Pdf

This week is filled with events relating to the digitization of the economy. The parliamentary group of Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party began the week on Monday with a conference on Internet policy, the German Federation of Trade Unions, the DGB, holds a similar event on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the parliamentary group of the center-right ruling Christian Democratic Union is hosting an event titled “Economy 4.0 – Opportunities for Germany.”

But in the debate over digitization Reiner Hoffmann, head of the Confederation of German Trade Unions, has a big concern – he wants to make sure human beings take priority over technology.


Handelsblatt: Do you agree that we should not stand in the way of the digital revolution and exploit its advantages?

Mr. Hoffmann: We should take advantage of the opportunities, but we also can’t be blind to the risks. Most of all, the focus must be on human beings. We can’t simply ask what is technically feasible, but also what is socially desirable.

Is the German economy sufficiently prepared for digitization?

If you look at online retailing or online banking, you can see what upheavals are currently underway. Particularly small and medium-sized companies and people working in skilled trades should quickly prepare for the change and ensure their employees are qualified. If a technician shows up today to perform maintenance on a highly complex heating system, he is quickly stretched to his limits.

Want to keep reading?

Subscribe now or log in to read our coverage of Europe’s leading economy.