Second stage of social partner consultations on teleworking
In March 2001, the European Commission launched the second stage of European-level social partner consultations on the issue of teleworking. The social partners have been asked to consider a number of principles as a possible framework for European-level regulation of the matter.
The second phase of EU-level social partner consultations on the issue of teleworking, launched by the European Commission on 19 March 2001, followed a first stage of consultations on "modernising and improving employment relations" initiated in June 2000 (EU0007259N). The first consultation covered both teleworking and "economically dependent workers" (workers who are not employees in the traditional sense, but nevertheless rely on a single source of employment), inviting the social partners to give their views on the possible future direction of Community action in these areas. In launching the second round of consultations, the Employment and Social Policy Commissioner, Anna Diamantopoulou, stated that they focused on teleworking as this is the subject on which the two sides of industry have shown the keenest immediate interest. She added that around 7 million employees in Europe – some 4.5% of the labour force – telework on a regular basis.
The social partners are therefore invited to forward an opinion or recommendation on the content of a Commission proposal in this area (under Article 138(3) of the European Community Treaty) or to inform the Commission of their wish to begin negotiations for a European-level agreement (on the basis of Article 138(4) and Article 139). The Commission provides a list of "general principles that should serve as a framework for practical implementation":
- teleworking on a voluntary basis and the right to return to office-based work;
- guaranteed retention of the employment status of teleworkers;
- equal treatment with office-based colleagues;
- issues surrounding the information to be given to teleworkers;
- guarantees that the employer should bear the costs involved in teleworking;
- guarantees of suitable training;
- the health and safety of teleworkers;
- working time;
- the protection of the private life and personal data of teleworkers;
- maintenance of contact with the company;
- the collective rights of teleworkers; and
- access to teleworking.
There have recently been indications that a European-level agreement might be negotiated on teleworking – on 8 March 2001, the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) stated that it was prepared to enter into European-level social partner negotiations with the aim of concluding a non-legally binding agreement on the issue (EU0103203F). However, before negotiations can begin, a consensus between UNICE and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) must be reached on the nature of the accord, as ETUC has indicated that it would not be happy to negotiate an agreement which was not binding.