New working time rules agreed for telework

An agreement signed in October 2000 by the social partners in the Danish commerce and services sector makes it possible for employees to work at home without complying with the normal statutory "11-hour rule" on rest periods. The agreement, which seeks to obtain a higher degree of flexibility for teleworking, applies only if the employees concerned wish it to do so and if it is possible for these employees to organise their work themselves.

An agreement concluded on 31 October 2000 between the Danish Commerce and Service (Dansk Handel & Service, DHS) employers' organisation and the Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees in Denmark (Handels- og Kontorfunktionærernes Forbund/Service, HK/Service) provides that the "11-hour rule" on rest periods will no longer have to be observed by those of the 95,000 members of HK/Service who work at home. It has thus been made easier for employees in commerce and services to perform their work at home and to telework.

According to the Working Environment Act, there must be a rest period of 11 hours between the end of a period of working time and the beginning of the next period of working time. The "11-hour rule" has thus hitherto meant that employees in commerce and services who, for example, choose to work at home from 21.00 until midnight, cannot start work until 11.00 next day.

In order to obtain a higher degree of flexibility, the new agreement provides that the 11-hour rule can be set aside under certain conditions. The main condition is that the employer does not fix or control the working time of the homeworker - ie that the employees are free to organise their working time as they wish. If the employer controls the working time, the ordinary working time rules apply and the employee may refuse to work under the terms of the new agreement. In principle, there are no limits as to the types of job covered by the agreement, as long as the work functions can be performed outside the workplace. In practice, homeworking in commerce and services is in most cases performed by means of a personal computer, for instance in the areas of auditing or marketing.

DHS and HK/Service emphasise that the advantage to the individual employee is that the agreement makes it possible to combine work and leisure time in a better way. On the other hand, the agreement may be open to the criticism that it might also mean that work and leisure time will become mixed up in a way which makes it difficult for the employee to distinguish between the two

"We are pleased to note that it has been possible for the social partners to live up to the invitation from the Minister of Labour, Ove Hygum, to conclude an agreement concerning rules on telework. This bodes well for the future cooperation between enterprises and employees in the knowledge society which is under rapid development in a globalised world," said the DHS senior managing director, Søren B Henriksen, and Karin Retvig, the president of HK/Service, in a joint press release. The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) is also very pleased with the agreement and notes that it is based on the wishes of the employees, and applies only if the employee wants it to do so.

Agreements between the social partners to deviate from the 11-hour rule are not new. However, this is the first time that such an agreement has been concluded concerning telework. The procedure is that the social partners submit the text of such agreements to the Working Environment Authority, which must approve the content before they take effect. Normally this takes place without any problems, and there is no reason to believe that this will be any different in the case of the new DHS-HK/Service agreement

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