Women especially risk falling into the teleworking trap if they have to juggle between work, household and care responsibilities.
Telework can have both positive and negative aspects for workers, and what initially appears to be an advantage can easily turn into a disadvantage. This is especially the case when telework is imposed.
Trade unions recognise the advantages of teleworking, such as reducing the environmental footprint by limiting transport, improving work-life balance, greater flexibility and more autonomy for workers. Unfortunately, teleworking can also turn into a trap. This can be the case especially for women if they end up having to juggle work, household and care responsibilities. Given that teleworking is often associated with working longer hours and unpaid working time, women are at a double disadvantage due the existing gender pay gap.
Telework cannot be a substitute for public childcare and other care provision. In the context of a pandemic, solutions must be found for teleworkers who shoulder care responsibilities due to closed facilities. It is vital that telework does not become an excuse for pushing women into staying at home. In extreme cases of difficult private relations, this can mean forcing people to stay at home with an abusive partner. The pandemic showed that compulsory telework decreases the chances to seek outside help and has led to an increase in domestic violence.
Another trap for workers can result from pressure to continue teleworking in case of illness. Trade unions already suspect that this is the case. Studies conducted before the pandemic have shown that telework leads to reduced absenteeism.
Telework should not increase gender inequality or force workers to work when they should be recovering from an illness. It should represent an advantage for workers. For telework to become an instrument for a better work-life balance, workers must have the right to decide whether to use it or not. Proper regulation, with the involvement of social partners, must ensure that telework does not replace any form of sick leave, care leave, maternity leave or parental leave.
Trade unions, through collective bargaining, can ensure properly regulated telework that gives workers who decide to telework the same rights and opportunities as all other workers, especially regarding career development, getting promoted and occupying leadership positions. Through collective agreements, unions can ensure that working time conditions are the same, no matter where the work is carried out, especially by guaranteeing the right to disconnect. More flexibility and autonomy will then benefit workers and their work-life balance, and not result in unpaid overtime, pressure to be flexible and always available, and huge psychological strains.
Isabelle Barthès, industriAll Europe’s Deputy Secretary General:
“Telework can certainly bring advantages for workers and lead to a better work-life balance. We must be aware of the traps, however. Women especially risk falling into the teleworking trap if they have to juggle between work, household and care responsibilities. Workers must have the right to decide whether to telework or not.”
Our campaign ‘Telework: my right, my decision’ sheds light on the advantages, but also the dangers of imposed telework for workers.