Telework in Spain

The number of workers engaged in telework in Spain has almost doubled in recent years, although it remains at a relatively low level overall. However, telework may now become more popular following the recent royal decree regulating this form of work in the public sector. This article looks at the extent of telework in Spain and explores the progress in implementing the EU framework agreement on telework, concluded by the European social partners in 2002.

Definition

Article 2 of the 2002 European framework agreement on telework (107Kb PDF) has defined telework as follows:

Telework is a form of organising and/or performing work, using information technology, in the context of an employment contract/ relationship, where work, which could also be performed at the employers premises, is carried out away from those premises on a regular basis.

No autonomous definition of telework exists in Spain besides that set by the social partners in the European framework agreement. The references to telework in main national agreements regulating this issue merely emphasise some specific dimensions of telework, such as the use of information and communication technologies (ICT), its voluntary nature and the guarantee of equal working status compared with permanent workers.

Prevalence of telework

No official statistics are available on the current extent of telework. The data used in the reference studies correspond to databases of the European Commission, namely, the Electronic commerce and telework trends (ECaTT) research project from 1999 and the Statistical indicators benchmarking the information society (SIBIS) survey in 2003. According to these sources, the number of workers providing telework services in Spain has almost doubled in recent years, from 2.8% to 4.9% of the working population. However, it is still among the lowest levels in the 15 EU Member States (EU15) before enlargement of the European Union in 2004 and 2007, above Portugal (3.4%) and below France (6.3%).

The number of teleworkers may rise in the near future with the approval of a draft royal decree regulating telework in the general state administration, as a result of an agreement with the trade unions in May 2007 (ES0704029I). According to government forecasts, about 20,000 public employees will adopt the telework programmes, amounting to 10% of workers in the general state administration.

Regulatory framework

No specific legislation pertains to the regulation of telework in Spain. The legal bases that tend to be applied are those of self-employment and homeworking.

Social dialogue

Through social dialogue, the European framework agreement on telework was included in the Agreement on Collective Bargaining of 2003 (Acuerdo para la Negociación Colectiva, ANC), without regulatory effect (ES0302204F). Successive renewals of this multi-sectoral agreement have maintained the references to telework and have established the guidelines for introducing it through collective bargaining; however, the ANC goes no further than the provisions of the European framework agreement.

Decree for public sector

The most important regulatory framework at national level is the draft royal decree noted above regulating telework in the general state administration. This arrangement was agreed by the Ministry of Public Administration (Ministerio de Administraciones Públicas, MAP) and the Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO), the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT), the Independent Trade Union Confederation of Civil Servants (Central Sindical Independiente y de Funcionarios, CSI-CSIF) and the Galician Trade Union Confederation (Confederación Intersindical Galega, CIG). The decree aims to promote telework as a means of achieving a better work-life balance. Those who participate in the telework programmes, which will be developed each year by the public administration bodies in agreement with the trade unions, may carry out up to 50% of their weekly working time at home.

Collective agreements

In 2006, only 10 collective agreements contained a reference to telework. Two of these were national sectoral agreements: the General Agreement of the Chemical Industries of 2004 and the National Agreement of the Daily Press of 2005. Another was the provincial collective agreement for those doing office work, such as secretarial or accounting services. The rest were company agreements, including those of Siemens Nixdorf Spain (1997), BP Oil Spain (2002), DHL International (2003) and Telefónica (2005). Whereas agreements at higher levels merely reproduce the content of the European framework agreement or establish programmes for its application, many of the company agreements were reached previous to or at the same time as the framework agreement, so their regulation is more differentiated.

Company and regional agreements

In most companies, telework is not regulated by collective bargaining but by individual bargaining with workers or some type of internal regulation. In many cases, telework is regulated in specific company agreements that are not reflected in the official statistics.

At regional level, the Agreement of June 2002 regulating telework in Catalonia was signed by the Catalan Association of Telework (Asociación Catalana de Teletrabajo, ACT), CC.OO and the CC.OO-affiliated Trade Union Federation of Dependent Self-Employed Workers (Federacion Sindical de Trabajadores Autónomos Dependientes, TRADE-CC.OO). This agreement was reached before the conclusion of the European framework agreement, although it follows the same orientation by establishing a framework of cooperation between the social partners for dealing with telework through collective bargaining.

Other important regulatory developments are a number of court sentences which considered the framework agreement to be a foundation of law.

Employment and working conditions

In general, the situation of telework is voluntary and guarantees both the working conditions established initially in the employment contract and the equal rights of teleworkers in comparison with other workers in the company. The employer tends to finance the installation and maintenance of the necessary equipment. Compensation for additional expenses incurred by teleworkers, such as electricity, food and space, is seldom allowed.

In some cases, a preliminary selection process determines which workers can carry out telework. In all cases, data protection measures and confidentiality clauses are included according to the current legislation.

Training and promotion

Teleworkers are entitled to receive training and professional promotion on the basis of the same conditions as other workers. Companies tend to offer specific training courses on the use of ICT relating to telework and, to a lesser extent, guidelines on occupational risk prevention.

Health and safety

The regulation of occupational risks reveals the most differences between the agreements regulating telework. Although industrial accidents are addressed in most cases, the right to occupational risk prevention normally is not. Despite the fact that the latter is a recognised right for teleworkers, the mechanisms for monitoring compliance are not in place and the activity of the labour inspectorate is limited in private homes. Companies that accept their obligations with regard to occupational risk prevention organise inspections by company technicians to provide for evaluation of the risks of the job and the monitoring of compliance with safety measures.

Collective bargaining

Teleworkers have the same collective rights as other employees. With regard to the rights of participation of the worker representatives, a greater variability emerges in the degree of specification. The draft decree law regulating telework in the general state administration establishes the obligation to reach an agreement on telework programmes with the trade unions.

Views of social partners and government

For the moment, the adoption of the European framework agreement has not led to a specific regulation of telework beyond the terms of the ANC. However, important steps have been taken in this direction. Particularly noteworthy are the draft royal decree of 2007 and the Agreement of Catalonia of 2002, which have been supported by consultation of the social partners through the tripartite and joint bodies in their respective areas. The conclusions and recommendations of this work may shape a suitable framework of regulation for promoting telework.

Juan Arasanz Díaz, QUIT, University Autònoma of Barcelona (UAB)

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