New telework guidelines adopted in telecommunication sector

The European-level social dialogue committee in the telecommunications sector adopted new guidelines for the organisation of telework in February 2001. The guidelines are intended to provide a European framework for the implementation of teleworking in the sector.

On 7 February 2001, Luis Neves from Uni-Europa Telecom (the European section of Union Network International grouping telecommunication workers' trade unions) and Manfred Bobke, president of the telecommunications sector social dialogue committee, signed a set of guidelines on teleworking in this sector. The telecommunications industry employers' organisation, the European Public Telecommunication Network Operators Association (ETNO) will now consider whether to adopt the guidelines as an "official reflection document" at the next meeting of its executive board.

General provisions

In general, the guidelines, which follow on from a joint political statement made by the social partners in this sector as a contribution to the March 2000 Lisbon European Council meeting (EU0004241F), stress that teleworking should be voluntary and introduced on the basis of collective agreements concluded at the appropriate level. The guidelines state that the modernisation of the labour market is crucial for the future development of Europe and vital, given the ongoing rapid changes in the competitive environment and the development of new technologies. Work organisation and working relationships should therefore be as adaptable and flexible as possible. They go on to state that teleworking is particularly relevant in the telecommunications sector and that European-level principles on its introduction are important. The parties to the guidelines hope that they will be adopted by telecommunications companies in Europe, on a voluntary basis and according to each country's laws and collective bargaining practices.

The guidelines aim to pursue the following objectives:

  • arranging the flexibility of work organisation;
  • creating employment opportunities in regions which are structurally weak and for people with disabilities;
  • diving individual workers greater responsibility for planning and carrying out work;
  • humanising work and improving the work/life balance;
  • improving quality of work and productivity and creating more job satisfaction; and
  • transferring "work to people".

Main principles

The guidelines state first that the introduction of telework should be on a voluntary basis on the side of both the employer and the employee. An agreement on teleworking should be reached at the appropriate level – ie sectoral or company level – and its introduction should be subject to the suitability of the individual, the work performed and the working environment.

There should be equal treatment between teleworkers and employees working on company premises. Teleworkers should be assigned to a company organisation unit in order to ensure that employment status and terms and conditions are not affected by the move to teleworking.

The company should provide, instal and maintain all equipment necessary for teleworking, which should be returned to the company upon the termination of the arrangement. The employer should give consideration to meeting any additional costs which teleworking involves.

Teleworkers should be given the same access to training, career development and career advancement as company-based employees and should be involved in any work review policies adopted by the company. In addition, any company health and safety regulations, in accordance with the relevant laws and collective agreements, should apply to teleworkers' home workplaces.

If the home workplace becomes unavailable for teleworking, the company should make every effort to find alternative employment for the employee in question.

Isolation can be a problem for teleworkers – the guidelines state that arrangements should be made to ensure that teleworkers do not suffer from exclusion. This would include, as far as possible, the opportunity to meet regularly with colleagues and to have access to company information.

In terms of security, teleworkers must ensure that all equipment, information and data files are kept confidential and secure, in a manner which conforms with company policy and security and data protection.

If the employer wishes to set up a performance monitoring facility, the teleworker should be informed of this. As far as is possible, the monitoring should control output rather than activity. Monitoring should also be consistent with the systems which apply to company-based employees. Further, any visits by company managers or company employees to the home of teleworkers must be made by prior appointment and with the agreement of the teleworker.

Finally, the guidelines state that teleworkers have the same collective rights as company-based employees, including the rights of communication with works councils and trade union representatives.

The sectoral social dialogue committee recommends that the guidelines should be adopted by telecommunications companies by the end of 2001, on a voluntary basis and according to the laws and collective bargaining practices of individual countries. The committee will monitor the adoption of the guidelines during 2002.

Commentary

These guidelines on the introduction of teleworking are significant for a number of reasons. They represent the first attempt to provide a European-level framework for the introduction of teleworking, covering all the major issues of concern associated with teleworking, including equal treatment with company-based workers, performance monitoring, costs and maintenance of equipment, health and safety, and representation by trade unions. As the guidelines state, it is the telecommunications industry which is most suited to the introduction of teleworking, due to the nature of the work and the availability of equipment – the guidelines serve to formalise at sectoral level and build on a number of arrangements which have already been introduced at company level in this sector. For example, a major agreement on teleworking was concluded in 1998 at the German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom (DE9810181N).

The guidelines will also been seen as an important boost to the so-called Lisbon strategy, discussed at the March 2000 Lisbon summit, which aims to harness the potential of the "information society" and of new technology in order to stimulate employment.

Finally, the intersectoral European-level social partners will no doubt examine this sectoral initiative with interest as they have been asked by the European Commission, under the umbrella of its consultation of the social partners on the modernisation of work organisation launched in June 2000 (EU0007259N), to consider the possibility of European-level action on teleworking. These guidelines will now no doubt serve as a basis and reference point for any intersectoral European-level negotiations which may open on the theme of teleworking. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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