Joint guidelines for telework agreed in the private service sector

Around 7% of Swedish employees work at home on a regular basis, and employers and employees show an increasing interest in telework. Thus in autumn 1998, a government commission will present proposals aimed at clarifying the legal and contractual situation of teleworkers. Another sign of this increasing interest are the joint guidelines on telework adopted in November 1997 by a number of employers' associations and trade unions within the private service sector.

According to a study conducted by Statistics Sweden (SCB) in spring 1997, around 250,000 employees, or around 7% of the employed workforce, have agreed with their employers to work partly at home on a regular basis. Telework is more frequent among municipal employees (13%) and those employed by the state (8%) than among private employees (5%).

The highest percentage of teleworkers is found in education and research (30%) followed by personal and cultural services (8%), health and social work and the finance sector (both 7%) and public administration (5%). The lowest percentage is within the construction sector, where less than 1% occasionally work at home.

More women than men (9% compared with 6%) are teleworkers. There is also a difference, taking the different form of women' careers into account: men do more and more telework the older they become, while among women the highest percentage of teleworkers is found in the age category of 34-44. There is a slight tendency for women with children to work at home more than women without children.

The percentages of male and female teleworkers working with computers are equal. Men do, however, tend to have their computers provided and their work station paid for by their employers.

Joint guidelines

According to the SCB study, the number of teleworkers had not increased noticeably since 1994 when a similar study was carried out, but employers and employees show an increasing interest in telework arrangements. As the legal and contractual effects of such arrangements are uncertain, the Government appointed a commission in 1997 with the task of proposing legislative and other measures. The commission is due to present its report in autumn 1998.

Another effect of the increasing interest in teleworking is that it is more and more a subject for collective bargaining. One example is the annex on telework appended to a collective pay agreement for some 80,000 salaried employees concluded in November 1997 between six organisations representing employers in trade, commerce and service on the one hand, and the Association of Graduate Engineers (Civilingenjörsförbundet, CF) and the Salaried Employees' Union (Tjänstemannaförbundet, HTF) on the other (SE9711156N).

The annex is both an information source and a checklist for the employer and the individual employee. It concerns mainly computer- and telecommunications-based telework. During spring 1998, the employers' associations and unions are to go further and create model contracts to cover these situations.

Legal aspects

The overall recommendation in the annex is that the employer and the employee must have a detailed discussion on the terms of teleworking. On some points, an agreement in writing might be necessary. Regarding the legal questions, the annex makes the following points.

  • The employee's protection under the Employment Security Act may be weakened if he or she works at home on a regular basis, as the home may be considered as a separate workplace.
  • The law and agreements on working time may be hard to apply as they almost always depend on the presumption that the employer has control over working time.
  • Rules concerning holidays and other forms of leave are mostly applicable without exceptions.
  • The right to information and consultation has to be considered, so that the teleworker is in the same position as other employees.
  • If the teleworker is elected as a local trade union representative, a special agreement on the application of the Trade Union Representatives Act can be made.
  • The Work Environment Act is applicable, which means that the employer is responsible for working conditions.
  • Questions concerning secrecy, security and technical support have to be considered.
  • The effect of the arrangement on taxation also has to be considered.
  • The general collective agreement on terms of employment is applicable, but may be tailored to particular circumstances.

Provision for an experimental period

The annex recommends that employees should experiment with teleworking for a test period to begin with, and that there should be an agreement to be able to return to the previous working situation, as teleworking has to be voluntary.

Organisationally, the employee should belong to his or her former workplace, and he or she must have the opportunity to attend meetings and courses and have social contacts with other people in the company.

The equipment has to be of a good office standard, both technical and ergonomic, while all maintenance and repairs have to be carried out by professionals. The equipment has to be insured, including insurance against damage that it may cause to the home.

The employer and the employee should make agreements on the following points:

  • working hours and tasks;
  • provision for the employer's admittance to the employee's home, as the employer is responsible for the working conditions;
  • the costs of equipment, work station, phone and electric power. If the technical equipment does not belong to the employer, there has to be an agreement on the costs of its operation, maintenance and insurance; and
  • the evaluation and follow-up of the arrangement.

Commentary

As communication facilities improve, the percentage of employees working at home will probably increase. Most employees see more possibilities than difficulties or threats in telework, and the employers too see advantages in it.

Most laws and collective agreements are not adapted to teleworking. The annex to the agreement for the commerce, trade and service sectors, however, does cover the most vital points and may be developed into a detailed agreement and a check-list. (Claes Leo Lindwall, NIWL)

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