European Parliament held conference on the right to disconnect and telework
A perspective from the EU institutions, Member States and social partners
On the 15th of March of 2022 a conference on the theme of the right to disconnect and telework took place at the European Parliament with the aim of stress the need to keep a balance between personal and professional life. The welcoming words were given by the moderator Tasmin Rose. The session lasted for 9 hours and it was divided mostly in 4 different parts: The first part was about a discussion on the main challenges and opportunities of teleworking. In the second session speakers gave highlights on national approaches which have been taken till the present day in the field of teleworking. Consequently, the next topic to discuss was the role of social partners’ agreements and the social dialogue. Last but not least, some of the main challenges and opportunities were reviewed.
As an opening remark, Dragoș Pîslaru, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, underlined the necessity of using this new tool in an appropriate way, so as to improve the conditions of workers in the best way and not to deteriorate other aspects, such as, mental health. Additionally, Élisabeth Borne, French Minister for Labour, Employment and Inclusion, pointed out that digitalization is becoming more relevant as time goes by and there is the necessity to see how this huge change is going to affect workers’ daily-life. Moreover, Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights in the European Commission, stated that telework has come to stay and therefore, there is the need both for the EU and for Member States to have a specific legislation, in order to protect workers in the area of health and leisure time.
The discussion continued with Alex Agius Saliba, Member of the European Parliament, Rapporteur of the European Parliament Resolution on the right to disconnect, pointing out that during the lockdown 1/3 of the workers worked from home and the vast majority of them worked for 48 hours per week. This is translated into more mental and physical disorders and invites the Commission to act immediately. Esther Lynch, Deputy General Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), stated the need of legislation to be clear; for example, not to pay less money to teleworkers and to respect their privacy. Afterwards, Maxime Cerutti, Director, BusinessEurope, insisted on the need of having a cultural partnership for remote works. Joost Korte, Director-General, European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, reaffirmed the previous statements by showing the higher percentage of teleworkers in Bulgaria which increased from 1% to 28%.
In Session 1, Ivailo Kalfin, Executive Director, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), showed that the first legislation in the right to disconnect was made by France in the year 2016 designing the number of holidays, the schedule and the free time. During the discussion Brecht Stalmans, Legal officer, Ministry of Employment (Belgium); Tara Coogan, Director, Industrial Relations, Workplace Regulation and Economic Migration Division of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ireland); Ingrid Vanhecke, Deputy Director for international affairs (Netherlands); Ana Couto de Olim, Director General of the Directorate of Employment and Vocational Training Services (Portugal), described the evolution of Belgian, Irish, Dutch and Portuguese legislation in the right to disconnect in their respective countries. One of the main conclusions is that there are some differences in the way each Member State legislates in this field.
In Session 2, Manuela Tomei, Director, Conditions of Work and Equality Department, International Labour Organization (ILO), affirmed that the best way to put a solution to this challenge is to make telework productive and comfortable for everyone. In the discussion, Rebekah Smith, Deputy Director of Social Affairs, BusinessEurope; Isabelle Schömann, Confederal Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC); Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary, UNI Europa; Guillaume Afellat, Policy advisor, SGI Europe; Sylvie Brunet, Member of the European Parliament; Elena Lizzi, Member of the European Parliament, explained the evolution since the 2002 framework agreement in telework to nowadays.
In Session 3, William Cockburn, Interim Executive Director, European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU OSHA), reported the risks, opportunities and challenges in terms of self-security at work. During the first discussion, Tomáš Zdechovský, Member of the European Parliament; Kim Van Sparrentak, Member of the European Parliament; Nayla Glaise, President, EUROCADRES; Véronique Willems, Secretary General, European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME United) affirmed that the legislation should also take into account the small companies of the EU market, due to the fact that one important part of the EU labour market is based on SMEs. Nevertheless, in the second part of the discussion, Péter Pálvölgyi, Chief executive officer, AllDigital; Mikael Leyi, Secretary General, Solidar; Margarita de la Pisa, Member of the European Parliament; Jose Gusmão, Member of the European Parliament, stated that there is also a need to protect disadvantage workers such as those from rural areas or with not many economic resources.
In conclusion, we could affirm that there is a strong need, both for the EU and for Member States, to legislate in terms of disconnection so as to protect workers, if digitalization increases in the labour market.