The ambiguous effects of telework
In 2017, a joint report from the Eurofound research agency and the International Labour Organization observed that advances in digital technology were making it easier to work anytime and anywhere. The phenomenon of telework and mobile work has been increasing, driven by the need of employers for higher productivity, improved performance and more recently to face the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report suggested that the effects of telework can be both positive and negative, as well as highly ambiguous and perhaps even contradictory. On the one hand, telework can have a positive effect on greater working autonomy, higher productivity, the reduction of commuting time and so on. On the other hand, working from home can have side effects such as, gender gap, mental instability, stress, and a blurring of the boundaries between work and private and family life.
The report suggests that the disadvantages of telework, with which workers seem to struggle the most, are its tendency to extend working hours, blurring work/life boundaries and thus jeopardising work-life balance.
The impact of Covid-19 on work-life balance
Four years and a pandemic later, Eurofound has published a new report about the impact of telework on work-life balance during the pandemic. The report Living, Working and Covid-19 and tries to capture the immediate impact of COVID-19 on the way people in Europe live and work.
The COVID crisis has provided the impetus for an ad-hoc telework revolution, one that had been anticipated for over a generation but had largely failed to materialise. Moreover, as the research paper suggests, the pandemic has eroded the work life balance of women more than men. Women seem to pay the price of the pandemic.
Ireland: a national remote working strategy
Earlier this year, the Irish government set out its Remote Working Strategy. It has also called for engagement with unions on the detailed roll-out of the proposals.
The strategy adopts some of the recommendations made last year by the Fórsa public services union such as, the establishment of a legal right to request remote working, a legal code of practice on the right to disconnect, a review of the treatment of remote working for tax purposes, and making remote working the norm for 20% of public sector staff.
The perspective of Fórsa is at the same time to develop and preserve the positive effects of telework and to provide adequate guidelines and safeguards to prevent negative side effects on workers’ lives and rights.
In the union’s submission to last year’s government consultation on remote working, it argued for the preservation of sectoral agreements on home working in the interests of workers, but that these should be based on principles agreed with unions at a national level. In addition, Fórsa used the occasion to propose the “four-day week” initiative to the government.
The general secretary of Fórsa, Kevin Callinan, pointed out that the union wants to retain the option for remote working, with adequate safeguards, for staff and organisations that want it. “This is also an opportunity to look afresh at issues around working time and work-life balance, and Forsa wants to ensure that this isn’t lost in the public conversation or in negotiations with employers,” he said.
The union has drawn up guidelines for remote work that can be useful for both employees and employers.
Russia: new telework legislation
On 1 January, a new law on remote work came into effect in Russia. The law prescribes the procedure for interaction between an employee and an employer in various formats of remote work. The Russian law has divided remote work into three categories: remote work on an ongoing basis, when the employee works outside the office all the time; remote work for a certain period (no more than six months); and periodical remote work (implies alternating work from home and from the office). In the last case, the rules on teleworking do not apply.
Trade unions managed to ensure that the work of teleworkers will be regulated not only by an employment contract, but also by collective agreements and local regulations.
The law provides that the time of interaction of a remote worker with an employer is included in working hours. The employer is responsible for providing equipment, software and hardware, information security and other means. If employees use their own equipment, the employer must compensate the corresponding costs.
The need for a law on remote work has been discussed for a long time, but the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine have significantly accelerated the introduction and adoption of legislation.
Spain: regulating telework in a stable and permanent way
On 21 September 2020, the FSC-CCOO and FeSP-UGT public service federations signed an agreement with the government on telework. The document, covering over 2.5 million public employees, gives a legal framework where the rights of workers are protected. The aim of the unions was to regulate telework in a stable, permanent way, taking account of exceptional circumstances such as those caused by the Covid-19. They also wanted to guarantee face-to-face contact with citizens.
According to the unions this is the time to regularize telework in the administrations, a way of work that was an option before COVID-19 but that the pandemic has made a reality. The impact of COVID-19 has seen an increase from 26,000 to more than 450,000 public employees doing telework.
The agreement encourages the use of new information technologies and the development of digital administration with consequent benefits for both public employees and the public administration. Among the benefits of this agreement, are the reduction of travel time, environmental sustainability and a better work-life balance.
The new agreement has addressed many of the concerns raised previously by FeSP-UGT and FSC-CCOO. These related to working time, the right to disconnect, provision of equipment, health and safety, training, contact with the workplace and the voluntary nature of the decision to telework, data protection and the right to privacy.
The unions have called for negotiations at various levels of government to follow quickly to ensure implementation of the new agreement.
EPSU continues to monitor these issues in its regular Collective Bargaining newsletter. Newsletter articles can be easily searched by theme and by country. You can keep informed on telework/digitalisation and work-life balance and how the working life is changing around you.