EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

LO and DA pleased with EU agreement on telework

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The framework agreement on telework concluded by the EU-level social partners on 16 July 2002 was greeted with great satisfaction in Denmark. The fact that the agreement is to be implemented by the social partners themselves, rather than via a Directive, is seen by Danish employers' organisations and trade unions as giving a new impetus to Denmark's model of regulating the labour market through agreements rather than legislation. Denmark has the highest level of teleworking in the EU.

There has been a warm reception among the Danish social partners for the EU-level framework agreement on telework signed on 16 July 2002 (EU0207204F) by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Council of European Professional and Managerial Staff (EUROCADRES)/European Confederation of Executives and Managerial Staff (CEC) liaison committee, theUnion of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE)/the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP). The agreement, which deals with various aspects of the employment conditions of teleworkers, is to be implemented by the members of the signatory parties 'in accordance with the national procedures and practices specific to management and labour'. This is in contrast with previous agreements reached by the EU-level intersectoral social partners over issues on which the European Commission has consulted them - parental leave, part-time work (EU9706131F) and fixed-term work (EU9901147F) - which were implemented through EU Directives.

The Danish social partners see the EU-level telework accord as victory for the principles on which the Danish collective bargaining model is based - ie that it is the social partners themselves that solve their own problems. The Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) and the Danish Employers’ Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) have expressed satisfaction at the fact that the agreement represents a 'pure' bargaining solution between the social partners - albeit with the Commission on the sidelines - without any follow-up in the form of an implementing Directive as in earlier cases.

European breakthrough for Danish bargaining model?

DA and LO have called the telework agreement a European breakthrough for the Danish way of regulating employment conditions - ie without interference from the legislature. 'The agreement shows that the EU Commission is no longer seeking exclusively a harmonisation of the European labour market through legislation, but is leaving it to the employers and the employees to conclude agreements according to their different needs,' stated the vice-director of DA, Jørgen Rønnest, who led the European-level telework negotiations for UNICE.

LO believes that a new practice has been established and that the agreement on telework will not be the last such agreement to be concluded by the European social partners. 'The agreement is a very direct imitation of our method of regulation and it may break the ground for new and larger agreements,' stated the LO representative responsible for EU matters, Erik Kristiansen. The Danish social partners presented the agreement on 11 July at a meeting of social partner representatives and the 'social troika' (representatives of the employment ministries of the countries holding the EU Presidency at present and over the following year - ie Denmark, Greece and Italy) prior to an informal Employment and Social Policy Council held under the Danish EU Presidency on 12 July. At this meeting, the president of LO, Hans Jensen, proposed discussion on setting up a European conciliation service based on the Danish model. If there is a growing number of agreements similar to the telework accord, there will be a need for a system for resolving labour disputes at European level (EU0206203F), he argued.

The Danish Minister for Employment, Claus Hjort Frederiksen, expressed his satisfaction with the telework agreement, 'which buries the fears of some organisations [eg LO and DA] that the European Union is a threat to the much praised Danish model ... The agreement is important in the light of the upcoming enlargement of the European Union and I will use this example during the Danish Presidency,' said the Minister.

Telework most common in Denmark

A study undertaken by Eurobarometer, and published in the Danish newspaper Politiken on 9 July 2002, found that Denmark has the highest level of teleworking in Europe, with some 20% of workers using telework compared with an EU average of 6%. Men dominate telework in all countries - maybe because telework is often based on specialised computer work - and in Denmark, two out of three teleworkers are men, while 21% of men use telework (the highest level in the EU, where the average is 6%). The study further found that Denmark is characterised by a high degree of 'self-management' among employees using telework, compared with other countries where employers play a more dominant role.

The social partners in the Danish service sector, Danish Commerce and Service (Dansk Handel & Service, DHS) and the Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees in Denmark (Handels- og Kontorfunktionærernes Forbund/Service, HK/Service), concluded a voluntary agreement on teleworking in October 2000 (DK0011102N).

Commentary

There is no doubt that the Danish social partners see the EU-level framework agreement on telework as a breakthrough for the Danish bargaining model, which has been under pressure from EU Directives in the labour market field. It had once been the case that the Danish social partners implemented most EU social Directives through collective agreements. However, in the case of the 1993 working time Directive (93/104/EC), the European Commission did not accept assurances that this method of implementation would achieve national coverage for the Directive's rules in Denmark, given that 15%-17% of workers are not covered by a collective agreement. In order to resolve the problem, Denmark introduced a new model for implementing social Directives, whereby supplementary legislation covers those areas of the labour market not covered by collective agreements (DK0112158F). This has given rise to many discussions about the survival of the Danish model in a European Union where Directives are likely to increase in number.

The question now is how important the EU telework agreement will be in the Member States. While the agreement is indisputably a breakthrough at European level, the fact that it will not be implemented via a Directive means that in many countries it will cover only a small share of teleworkers. The social partners have committed themselves to implementing the agreement within three years of its signature - ie by July 2005 - but it is difficult to see how this can be done without elements of legislation in many countries. In Denmark, the problem will not be too great, as the European Commission will not be monitoring the degree of coverage on this occasion and the social partners will probably conclude an implementation agreement with national coverage. Nor is the Minister for Employment likely to use this case as part of his continuing challenge to the trade unions (DK0112147F) and step in with legislation. On the contrary, he may try to promote the new European bargaining model during the Danish EU Presidency over the remainder of 2002.

The telework agreement means that the Danish bargaining model has been given a new impetus from the EU. The Danish unions' proposal to set up a European-level conciliation service should be seen in this light. Finally, it should be noted that is far from certain that the European social partners can reach agreement every time they are consulted by the European Commission on an issue for possible Community action - so far, they have been more likely not to. For example, the failure of the EU-level social partners to reach an agreement on temporary agency work led the Commission to propose a Directive on the issue in March 2002 (EU0204205F). (Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS )

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