Only through clear regulation with social partner involvement can telework succeed to the advantage of workers and contribute to a well-functioning labour market in Europe.

Regulating telework is a central demand of industriAll European Trade Union’s campaign ’Telework: my right, my decision’. Clear rules are needed to ensure that telework becomes an advantage for workers and not simply a cost-reduction strategy of business, eventually leading to outsourcing of work that can be performed by company employees. Regulation must occur in line with national systems and practices, and collective bargaining at all levels is a key instrument. In the case of telework, company-level bargaining is essential to ensure that working arrangements meet workers’ needs and correspond to the reality of each enterprise.

Teleworking must be voluntary

Telework does not suit all workers and it is important to ensure that it remains a voluntary right. Workers should be able to choose whether to telework or to work at the office. Mixed options that combine telework with office work are needed, as studies confirm that teleworking is positive for workers as long as it is not permanent, and where presence at the workplace is possible at least a couple of days a week. In a recent report, the OECD highlights that more widespread teleworking may harm long-term innovation and decrease worker well-being. The report stresses that policymakers through social partners’ involvement must ensure that “teleworking remains a choice and is not ‘overdone.’” The voluntary principle is therefore the starting point of trade union demands regarding the regulation of telework.

Telework is not a guarantee for health and safety

While telework can protect workers from contracting infectious diseases, like COVID-19, at the workplace or during the commute, it is not a guarantee for health and safety. Since the start of the pandemic, feedback received from workers and their representatives about telework points to a significant increase in musculoskeletal complaints and psychological strains linked to inadequate equipment, long and irregular working hours, work-life imbalance, the lack of social interaction and feelings of isolation. Unions therefore demand that protecting the health and safety of workers has a central place in regulating telework. Regulation must ensure a proper working environment without physical and psycho-social risks. Employers are responsible for providing workers with the necessary good quality equipment to telework, as well as encouraging continuous interaction among colleagues and formulating and respecting clear rules on working time.

Working time flexibility is welcome, but with limits

Working time conditions need to be properly regulated to respect national regulation and/or collective agreements. Unpaid overtime must be avoided and pushes towards excessive flexibility should be resisted. However, the classic solution of fixing working time is of limited use in a telework context, given that workers may wish or need to take advantage of more autonomy in organising their working day. Together with the workers they represent, trade unions will find the best solutions in collective agreements. More flexibility and autonomy must be to the workers’ advantage. It should result in a better work-life balance, and not in unpaid overtime and psychological strains due to pressure to be flexible and always available. The right to disconnect must be fully granted and respected. During exceptional situations, like the current pandemic, solutions must be found for teleworkers who have care responsibilities due to closed facilities.

Finally, regulation must guarantee teleworkers the same rights and opportunities as all other workers. This includes the right to benefit from collective agreements, the right to contact and to join a union, the right to training and lifelong learning, as well as the possibility for promotion.

Isabelle Barthès, industriAll Europe’s Deputy Secretary General:

“Telework must be regulated through national legislation or collective agreements to benefit workers. Regulating telework will also give clarity to employers. In our campaign ’Telework: my right, my decision’, industriAll Europe puts forward guidelines on how telework should be regulated to ensure respect for essential teleworkers’ rights, such as health and safety, working time, workers’ privacy, and so on. Only through clear regulation with social partner involvement can telework succeed to the advantage of workers and contribute to a well-functioning labour market in Europe.”

Our detailed demands on telework are laid out in our position paper EN, FR, DE and summarised in our campaign leaflet.

Contact: Andrea Husen-Bradley (press and communication), Patricia Velicu (policy adviser)