Commission reviews social partner agreement on teleworking

In July 2008, the European Commission issued a report on the outcome of the 2002 telework agreement. It concludes that while the agreement has been successful – with key provisions being implemented in 21 Member States – there is still scope for improvement. Areas for improvement include a more extensive definition of telework, ensuring equal treatment for teleworkers, and increasing awareness of the agreement among certain groups and countries.

Growth of telework

Levels of telework have been growing, with around 8% of the European workforce teleworking for at least a quarter of their working time and 2% operating as full-time teleworkers (Europa press release, 2 July 2008). The Framework agreement on telework (108Kb PDF) was the first social partner agreement implemented in accordance with the procedures and practices stipulated in Article 139(2) of the EC Treaty. The agreement was signed on 16 July 2002 by the social partners the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), BusinessEurope (then UNICE), the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Union Européenne de l’artisanat et des petites et moyennes enterprises, UEAPME) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP). It was concluded after a two-stage consultation launched in 2000 by the European Commission and recognises that telework covers a wide and fast-evolving spectrum of circumstances and practices.

Provisions of telework agreement

The agreement states that telework is of a voluntary nature and that workers who agree or wish to opt for telework should retain their existing employment status. The telework agreement confirms that employers retain their responsibilities regarding the provision of equipment and health and safety, and that teleworkers should have the same rights of access to training and collective rights. At the same time, the agreement provided that:

  • its terms were to be implemented within three years of its signature;
  • member organisations were to report on its implementation;
  • a joint report would be prepared on the implementation actions taken.

Report on agreement’s implementation

The subsequent Report on the implementation of the European social partners’ framework agreement on telework (329Kb PDF), published by the European Commission in July 2008, draws its information from a wide range of sources, including the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO). It notes that the agreement has had real added value: for example, prior to the signing of the agreement, only two Member States had a comprehensive set of rules in place regarding telework, while today the key provisions of the agreement have been fully implemented by 19 Member States and partially implemented by another two. The report concludes that, in general, the specific objectives – set by agreement and by the Commission following its second stage consultation on modernising and improving employment relations (148Kb PDF) in 2001 – have been achieved. Thus, the telework agreement has ‘clearly contributed to the Lisbon goals of modernising labour markets and achieving a more dynamic knowledge-based economy’. At the same time, it has paved the way for a ‘steady, balanced development of telework across Europe’ and is ‘likely to warrant a high level of ownership and commitment by employers and trade unions’.

However, the report also finds that:

  • the definition of telework does not currently include ‘mobile telework’ that cannot be performed at the employer’s premises; moreover, in some Member States, telework and homeworking are treated as the same – this has limited full implementation of the agreement since it excludes types of telework not carried out at the worker’s home;
  • while most Member States have affirmed the voluntary character of telework, not all have precluded a worker’s refusal to perform telework as a reason for terminating the employment relationship;
  • the guarantee of maintaining an employee’s status has not been addressed in any of the legislative implementation instruments. The report suggests that these instruments may result in workers being moved into self-employment – which it notes appears to be confirmed ‘by evidence of a high rate of self-employment among teleworkers in several countries’;
  • some Member States have not included clear references to the right to equal treatment for teleworkers.

The report furthermore points to the need for:

  • improving visibility of the telework agreement in some countries;
  • adopting national social partner recommendations in sector-level bargaining;
  • raising awareness among individual employers and local-level trade unions;
  • concentrating on those sectors and professions with high incidences of telework.

Sonia McKay, Working Lives Research Institute

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