Telework and mobile workers

Responding to the growing concern associated with the emergence of telework in Portugal, the Association for the Promotion and Development of the Information Society commissioned a study on this phenomenon. Case studies carried out in different sectors of economic activity show that telework arrangements are agreed informally between an employer and employee and do not constitute a specific form of juridical subordination.

About the study

The Association for the Promotion and Development of the Information Society (Associação para a Promoção e Desenvolvimento da Sociedade da Informação, APDSI) commissioned a study with the aim of analysing the impacts of digital environments in work and helping to surpass barriers to the development of new forms of work, with a special focus on telework.

One of the projects of the study commissioned by ADPSI, and carried out by the Business and Labour Innovation Institute (Inovacação Empresarial e do Trabalho, IET) of the University of Lisbon, was entitled ‘TeleRisk’. This project aimed to analyse ‘the influence of the information society on employment’. Case studies were carried out on five companies in which teleworking practices or activities were identified. This included companies with workers performing all or part of their work away from their company premises by means of information and communication technologies (ICT). The sectors covered included the manufacture of textiles, footwear and metal products as well as the ICT sector, from which two companies were involved.

In each company, official documentation – namely Social Reports and Personnel Records – was collected and workers from different hierarchical levels were interviewed. Interviewees included managers (company director, human resources (HR) director, information technology (IT) director, production director, marketing director, among other professions), professionals (coordinators of different areas, teams or units), qualified workers, unskilled workers and apprentices. All interviewees were performing at least part of their duties away from their employers’ premises, and were therefore designated as ‘mobile workers’. A common in-depth questionnaire, covering themes such as contractual relations, work organisation and business organisational models, was used for the 20 interviews carried out.

All interviewees fitted the definition of teleworker as set out in the existing legal provisions which consider telework as work carried out under an employment contract, usually away from the employer’s premises, and through the use of ICT (see the Portuguese contribution to the EIRO study on Place of work and working conditions). However, most of the interviewees did not consider doing telework. In fact, most of them attributed this designation strictly to work carried out from home using various forms of ICT.

Contractual relations in telework

In terms of industrial relations, according to the case studies, mobile work or telework does not constitute a specific form of juridical subordination. Workers doing telework or who work away from the employer’s premises have in fact permanent or fixed-term employment contracts, while the particular situations related to the workers’ mobility are arranged individually with each worker. Hence, specific clauses are inherent to the job content and often imply the informal definition of agreements related to displacement expenses, travel insurance, necessary equipment and in some cases an additional remuneration proportional to the salary for each displacement.

Mobile workers and working time

Except for the case of the company included in the study operating in the manufacture of metal products, the average weekly working time is 40 hours for mobile workers. Nevertheless, according to the interviewees, most of the work is carried out according to ‘tasks’. This means that whenever necessary, mostly due to tight deadlines or work planning, there is a need to extend the worker’s ‘normal’ working hours at specific times. In the former case, mobile workers were exempt from a pre-fixed work schedule, which according to the labour law in force implies an additional specific compensation.

Commentary

Despite the lack of up-to-date quantitative data on the incidence of telework in Portugal, there has been a growing interest in the subject. In fact, the growing concern regarding the working conditions of workers taking on this new form of work organisation has been addressed by labour legislation.

Reference

Moniz, A. et al, Do analógico ao digital: O trabalho na Sociedade do Conhecimento [From analogical to digital: Work in the knowledge aociety], APDSI, 2008, available online in Portuguese at: http://www.apdsi.pt/getfile.php?id_file=1156.

Heloísa Perista and Eudelina Quintal, CESIS

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