National agreement signed on telework

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June 2004 saw the conclusion of a national interconfederal agreement that implements in Italy the European framework agreement on telework concluded by the EU-level social partners in July 2002. The Italian agreement was signed by 21 employers’ associations and the three largest trade union confederations, Cgil, Cisl and Uil.

On 9 June 2004, 21 employers’ associations representing all sectors and the three main trade union confederations - the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil) - signed an interconfederal agreement which implements the text of the EU framework agreement on telework concluded on 16 July 2002 (EU0207204F). The European agreement was signed 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; the Union 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 EU-level framework agreement on telework was the first cross-industry agreement between the social partners which was not intended to be given statutory backing in the form of an EU Directive. Instead, its provisions are to be implemented by the national member organisations of the signatory parties 'in accordance with the procedures and practices specific to management and labour in the Member States'. Italy is thought to be the fifth EU Member State, after Sweden (SE0309102N), the UK (UK0309102N), Spain (ES0302204F) and the Netherlands, to take such action to implement the EU agreement on telework.

The interconfederal agreement defines the general regulatory framework for telework, leaving ample space for collective and individual bargaining, though the latter must respect the minimum conditions for protection established by the text. The accord does not affect collective agreements already concluded on the matter: there are a number of national industry-wide collective agreements in Italy which regulate telework, for example in the retail and services sectors, telecommunications, small and medium-sized enterprises and the public sector (IT9712218F and IT9908344F).

The new agreement covers around 300,000 teleworkers, the majority of them women, who represent 1.6% of Italy's total labour force. According to some estimates, telework is bound to increase over the next three years and will account for more than 5% of employment.

The agreement

The signatories to the agreement recognise that telework is a means to modernise the organisation of work and that it may furnish a better work-life balance by giving the workers concerned greater autonomy. Moreover, they consider that telework should be encouraged by making the best use of new technologies, so that flexibility can be combined with job security, the quality of work improved, and greater opportunities for work entry offered to people with disabilities.

The most interesting aspects of the interconfederal agreement are as follows.

  • The voluntary and reversible nature of telework. Telework depends on a voluntary choice by the employer and the worker concerned. Unless explicitly stated by the contract, the worker is entitled to accept or refuse telework, and refusal does not constitute grounds for termination of the employment relationship.
  • Equality of treatment. The teleworker enjoys the same rights as those established by the law and collective agreements for a 'comparable' worker on the employer’s premises.
  • Work equipment. The employer is normally responsible for furnishing, installing and maintaining the equipment necessary for the telework. The employer also reimburses or pays costs deriving directly from the work, in particular communication costs.
  • Privacy. The teleworker’s privacy is guaranteed. If the employer decides to instal control devices, these must be proportionate to their purpose.
  • Health and safety. The employer is responsible for protecting the health and safety of the teleworker and must furnish all information on company health and safety policies, especially as regards the use of visual display units. In order to ensure compliance with health and safety regulations, the employer, the workers’ representatives and the competent authorities have right of access to the premises where the telework is undertaken. This access is subject to consent by teleworkers if they work in their own home. Likewise, in order to ensure that the health and safety regulations have been correctly applied, teleworkers have the right to ask for inspection of the premises where they work.
  • Organisation. Within the limits established by the law, collective agreements and company regulations, teleworkers are responsible for the organisation of their working time. Moreover, workloads must be comparable to those of workers doing the same job on the employer's premises. Finally, particular attention is paid to preventing the isolation of teleworkers by ensuring access to company information and regular meetings with work colleagues.
  • Training. Teleworkers are guaranteed the same training and career development opportunities as those working on the employer's premises, and are subject to the same assessment criteria. Moreover, they are entitled to receive specific technical and organisational training.
  • Collective rights. Teleworkers have the same collective rights as their colleagues working on the employer's premises and can vote or stand as a candidate in elections for workers’ representatives. Moreover, their communications with workers’ representatives must not be obstructed. The introduction of telework is subject to information and consultation of the workers’ representatives.
  • Monitoring. In order to draw up a report on application of the European framework agreement to be submitted to UNICE/UEAPME, CEEP and ETUC, in the light of the European agreement's possible revision by July 2007, the signatories will collect information through their sectoral and territorial branches on the conclusion of collective agreements concerning telework and on developments in its use.

Social partner comments

All the social partners that signed the interconfederal agreement have expressed their full satisfaction with it, stressing in particular its significance with regard to efforts to resume social concertation. According to Pier Paolo Pirani, the confederal secretary of Uil, the agreement is a 'real leap of quality in industrial relations'. Nicoletta Rocchi, confederal secretary of Cgil, considers the interconfederal agreement on telework to be 'a first small innovative step towards greater collaboration between the social partners'. The vice-president of Confindustria (Italy’s major employers’ association) and its delegate on trade union relations, Alberto Bombassi, has stated that the signing of the agreement inaugurates the new presidency of Confindustria and has affirmed that 'the value of the agreement reflects the climate of closer collaboration in bargaining policy that we wish to pursue.' (IT0406102N)

Commentary

The agreement of 9 June 2004 is an important event because for the first time in Italy such a framework agreement has been reached on a voluntary basis and without the backing of an EU Directive or a national law. From this point of view, as stressed by all the social partners involved, the deal signals a relaunch of the collective autonomy of the industrial relations actors and a resumption of the 'concertation' method. This latter aspect seems recently to have acquired particular value for the social partners after a period of divisions and conflicts.

Secondly, the interconfederal telework agreement is important because it enables the development of a flexible form of work within a clear framework of rules. As Giorgio Santini of the Cisl national secretariat points out, the agreement on telework combines 'flexibility with protection', confirming its full equivalence with work performed on company premises and establishing specific guarantees in consideration of its distinctive characteristics. The agreement may thus help resolve current debate in Italy on the possible extension to telework of regulations regarding homeworking/outwork, which is often criticised as being less protected and as marginalising the workers concerned. The set of rules introduced by the new agreement and the commitment of the social partners will enhance the positive potential of this form of work, while keeping under control the more critical aspects of safety, integration into the company’s organisation and representation. (Cinzia Maddaloni and Roberto Pedersini, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso)

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