Agreement signed on telework in the public administration

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Under an agreement signed in July 1999, telework is to be introduced in the Italian public administration, initially on an experimental basis. Participation will be voluntary and teleworkers will be guaranteed the same rights and opportunities as other workers.

Recent actions taken to reform the public administration in Italy have focused on industrial relations and the regulation of the employment relationship.

As regards industrial relations, the first elections of Rsu employee representative bodies in the public sector, held in November 1998 (IT9812333F), can be considered as the final act in the process of reforming collective bargaining and workplace representation (IT9806229F) which has brought the public sector into line with the private sector.

As far as the organisation of work is concerned, a number of innovations were introduced by the government in February 1998 (IT9802320F) and by the 1998 collective agreement covering employees in the ministries and the state-controlled bodies (IT9808329F). Besides extending the "privatisation" of the public sector employment relationship to senior managers, the most innovative aspects of these changes concern the flexibilisation of the employment relationship. This has been achieved by redefining working hours and the criteria regulating career advancement, and by introducing forms of flexible employment like temporary agency work, training/work contracts, and fixed-term contracts. Another aspect of this greater flexibility is teleworking.

The agreement on telework

The introduction of telework in the public administration was envisaged by the so-called "third Bassanini law" (no. 191 of 1998). On the basis of the provisions of this legislation, in March 1998 the government approved regulations implementing telework in the public administration (IT9806173N).

These regulations define telework as work undertaken by a public employee in a place outside his or her normal work site. This place must be suitable, ie it must comply with health and safety regulations. The work must be performed using information technologies linked online with the administrative department which employs the teleworker. The regulations cover general aspects like pay levels, the teleworker's rights, and working conditions. Definition of more specific rules based on the provisions of the law were to take place through collective bargaining.

Accordingly, on 21 July 1999, after talks lasting just over a month, the Aran public sector bargaining agency, the Cgil, Cisl, Uil trade union confederations and a number of independent unions signed a framework agreement which regulates telework in the public sector. The most significant aspects of the agreement are the following:

  • voluntary involvement. The choice of whether or not to take up telework will be left to the employee. Priority will be given to workers with disabilities, those who need to be at home to look after family members, and those who live at a distance from their place of work. Again, the employee may freely decide to give up telework and return to work in the office;
  • equal rights and opportunities. Teleworkers enjoy the same rights as in-office workers. These rights concern such matters as career advancement, pay and training. In order to ensure participation in organisational life and trade union activities, an online noticeboard will be created, and each teleworker will have an e-mail address;
  • working hours. These are the same as for in-office workers, although they may be scheduled differently from office hours;
  • costs. The cost of installing the computer and other equipment (modem, printer, etc) and their maintenance will be met by the authority employing the teleworker. The equipment can be used only for the purposes of work. Also envisaged are lump-sum reimbursements for telephone and electricity charges; and
  • controls. According to the provisions of Italy's Workers' Statute legislation, checks by the employer are not allowed, and this also applies in the case of teleworkers. Moreover, teleworkers must be informed of the criteria by which their work performance is assessed.

For the moment, telework has been introduced on an experimental basis for two years. An "observatory" has been set up at Aran to monitor and evaluate its use.

The framework agreement lays down only the basic principles for the introduction of telework in the public administration. By means of bargaining in the individual sectors of the administration it will be possible to introduce rules which suit the requirements of individual bodies.

Confirming a distinctive feature of industrial relations in the Italian public sector, namely the highly fragmented nature of trade union representation, the agreement has been signed by the Cgil, Cisl and Uil trade union confederations and by some small independent organisations, but not by some autonomous rank-and-file unions. The latter have refused to sign because they believe that telework lays the basis for the introduction of forms of "blackmail" and control over workers.

Commentary

Today, telework - though at a low level - is relatively widespread in Italy in international comparative terms (TN9811201S). In 1997, teleworkers constituted 1.3% of the labour force. Moreover, telework is used mainly in highly innovative sectors like telecommunications and information technology. The agreement just signed in the public administration has laid the basis for the greater spread of this form of working.

The agreement also confirms that the introduction of new forms of work is one of the strategies being pursued to increase the efficiency of the public administration. At least potentially, the reorganisation of the Italian civil service has taken a further step forward. Contrary to its traditional backwardness, the public administration now seems to be putting itself forward as an innovator in the field of work organisation.

The conclusion of the agreement also has important implications for industrial relations. It can be interpreted as a signal that telework may be regulated by collective bargaining at sectoral level. Until now, apart from some sectors like commerce (IT9707118N) and telecommunications, bargaining over the introduction of telework has usually been conducted at company level (IT9712218F). (Marco Trentini, Ires Lombardia)

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