Telework in the Netherlands

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Statistics show that the incidence of telework in the Netherlands has been rising since 2000, regardless of the precise definition used. The government has encouraged the use of telework by introducing tax benefits for employers who facilitate such work. This article looks at the extent of telework in this country 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.

In June 2001, the Dutch government issued a framework agreement (in Dutch, 48Kb PDF) on telework for civil servants. Article 1 of this agreement refers to teleworking as performing ‘activities on behalf of the relevant department in the home of the public servant, for which information and communication technology is used’.

This definition is more restricted than the definition in the 2002 European framework agreement in that it is only applicable to civil servants and only covers working at home.

Prevalence of telework

Data relating to the percentage of employees who carry out telework vary according to the definitions of telework that are used. The Central Statistical Office (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS) considers a teleworker as ‘someone who works outside the premises of his/her employer on a regular basis and has access to the information and communication technology (ICT) of the company.’

The location where the work is performed does not necessarily have to be the home. However, it is deemed essential for the teleworker to have access to the company’s ICT. By this definition, in 2004, 8% of workers carried out telework in the Netherlands. In 2003, this figure stood at 7%, which was an increase from the 6% of workers doing such work in 2002. These figures suggest that the number of teleworkers continues to rise.

According to the TNO Work Situation Survey (TNO Arbeidssituatie Survey, TAS), only 4.1% of employees worked at home in 2004 who had access to the ICT network of their employer; however, this represented an increase from data for 2002 (2.2%) and 2000 (2%). In 2004, 23% of all employees performed part of their job at home.

Research commissioned by the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) in 2007 reveals that 44% of the Dutch working population sometimes or regularly works at home, mainly in commercial and non-commercial services. This represents a significant increase compared with 2004 figures.

Main sectors using telework

In 2004, telework was mostly used in the following sectors of the economy:

  • computer services, where 51% of the total workforce performed telework;
  • electricity and water supply (16%);
  • other commercial services (12%);
  • transport, storage and communications (9%).

According to the TAS study, the highest proportion of teleworkers is found in the financial or business services sector (10.8%). Working at home is the most prevalent form of telework in the civil service and in education (35.5%) and also in the financial and business services sector (22.3%).

Development of telework at national level

Caution should be exercised when making data comparisons because of the different definitions of telework that are being used. However, all of the reports and surveys carried out on this subject to date show that the overall incidence of telework has increased since 2000. According to CBS, the number of teleworkers has risen by about one percentage point annually since 2002, as indicated with the abovementioned CBS figures.

Regulatory framework

No specific legislation exists in the Netherlands concerning telework according to the definition set out in the EU framework agreement. At present, teleworkers are mainly civil servants, workers with an employment contract and self-employed workers. The Dutch Working Conditions Act 1998 (Arbeidsomstandighedenwet) includes a general duty of respecting the working conditions of employees. This law is applicable to regular employees as well as to teleworkers. Therefore, in this regard, teleworkers are as equally protected as their non-teleworking colleagues with regard to working conditions.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, the government has encouraged the use of telework through tax benefits for employers who facilitate this form of work for their employees. In 2006, the Dutch parliament agreed to waive taxation on employers’ payments for the use of the internet and telephone by employees carrying out telework at home.

According to the bipartite Labour Foundation (Stichting van de Arbeid, STAR), teleworking can be used as a reintegration tool to encourage employees with a disability back to work. Dutch law facilitates this process by granting employers a reduction in their social security contributions when they provide work for a worker who would otherwise find it difficult to get a job due to a physical or psychological disability. The employer or disabled employee can also receive state funding for necessary changes to be implemented at the workplace to meet the needs of the worker, including the provision of telework facilities.

In September 2003, STAR drafted a recommendation on telework (in Dutch, 175Kb PDF). This recommendation brings the European framework agreement on telework more to the attention of businesses and various branches of industry. In this recommendation, agreements and arrangements on telework are to be put in place through decentralised negotiations. Moreover, the recommendation includes suggestions on how to include telework in collective agreements and provides information on telework regulations. The recommendation also presents examples of teleworking arrangements in existing collective agreements.

During the past 10 years, the regulation of telework in the Netherlands has not undergone any significant changes.

Employment and working conditions

To date, no specific employment conditions have been defined for teleworkers in the Netherlands and these workers are not protected by a non-discrimination clause. At present, telework is a voluntary choice for the worker and the employer. The framework agreement on teleworking for civil servants, the Labour Foundation’s recommendation and several collective employment contracts reinforce teleworking as a voluntary choice.

The employer is allowed to issue regulations concerning the use of email, internet and control mechanisms. According to the Dutch Court of Justice, the employer has to accept that the employee uses the company’s ICT for private purposes during office hours. Furthermore, the employer should respect the privacy of this communication. If the employer wants to implement a monitoring system, it is obligatory to keep the employee informed about the purpose of the system and the way in which the information that has been gathered will be used by the employer.

The law on collective agreements does not differentiate between teleworkers and regular employees. Therefore, teleworkers have the same collective rights as employees working at the employer’s premises.

Views of social partners and government

Government position

Telework ties in well with the aims of several government ministries by:

  • contributing to reducing traffic bottlenecks and thus carbon dioxide emissions, as a result of fewer people having to travel to the employer’s workplace on a daily basis;
  • acting as a support mechanism for people who have a paid job as well as a responsibility to care for children or elderly people;
  • lending itself as a reintegration tool for employees with a disability;
  • encouraging and intensifying the use of ICT and new forms of e-work.

The Dutch government emphasises in particular the possibilities of teleworking as a solution for traffic congestion and as a reintegration tool for people who are unable to work due to health problems. According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (Ministerie van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid, SZW), ‘teleworking is an innovative way to get long-term disabled people back to work. It reduces the employer’s (social security) costs, the loss of expertise and the employee remains involved with work and colleagues’. As noted, the government supports the use of teleworking for reintegration purposes by reducing the social security contributions of employers who successfully use teleworking as a reintegration tool.

Trade union position

The Dutch trade unions have a positive attitude towards telework; however, the unions have formulated some clear conditions for its use:

  • employees should not be compelled to work at their home. Telework should be a matter of choice;
  • teleworkers should be company employees with full social and legal rights, and should not become ‘independent’ subcontractors;
  • telework should take place in a separate room in the home. To guarantee a safe working environment, qualified health and safety experts should inspect this home office, but without violating the privacy of the teleworkers;
  • working at home and caring for young children is considered a difficult combination. Although, in general, it is true that carrying out telework at home can generate a better balance between work and private life, telework should not become a substitute for childcare or other care arrangements;
  • teleworkers should not lose their sense of social relations in the workplace;
  • teleworkers should be protected against isolation and depression due to lack of social contact;
  • teleworkers should not become workaholics. Teleworkers have a right to a private life and therefore can not always be at the company’s disposal;
  • employers and managers should make precise arrangements as to the teleworker’s desired level of production per unit of time;
  • managers in charge of teleworkers should pay extra attention to communication;
  • telework should not become a privilege for higher job functions, as it is a form of work that is possible in many roles.

The general trade union De Unie – a union for professionals – has published an extensive guide covering a wide range of subjects with regard to telework. The recently created Internet Union (Internetvakbond) has also taken this approach.

Employer position

The largest employer organisation in the Netherlands, the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (Vereniging van Nederlandse Ondernemingen-Nederlands Christelijk Werkgeversverbond, VNO-NCW), is one of the initiators of the Dutch E-work Foundation (Stichting Nederlands EwerkForum, EWF). The foundation’s objective is to encourage teleworking by bringing it to the attention of the government, the employers and the employees, and by providing information on this subject. According to a brochure published by VNO-NCW, entitled Telewerken: Iets voor u? (in Dutch, 237Kb PDF), teleworking offers opportunities for those involved, but the employers need to assess for themselves whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in their specific situation.

References

ADV Market Research, Telewerken [Telework], commissioned by the Dutch Trade Union Federation (FNV), Den Dolder, January 2008, available at: http://www.fnv.nl/binary/FNV Onderzoek Telewerken_tcm7-14675.pdf

Kraan, K., Place of work and working conditions – Netherlands, Dutch national contribution to the EWCO comparative analytical report on place of work and working conditions, 2007, available at: /ef/observatories/eurwork/erm/comparative-information/national-contributions/netherlands/place-of-work-and-working-conditions-netherlands

Kuipers, A.D. et al, The digital economy 2005, Voorburg/Heerlen, Central Statistical Office, 2006, available at: http://www.cbs.nl/NR/rdonlyres/CB06D0DC-8905-48E4-B1D9-A54F790AB215/0/2006p38pub.pdf

Lim, H.N., WATT Survey report, Faculty of technology, policy and management, Delft University of Technology, Delft, April 2004.

Robbert van het Kaar, Hugo Sinzheimer Institute (HSI)

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