Social partners begin teleworking talks

Negotiations on the issue of teleworking began on 12 October 2001 between the EU-level intersectoral social partners – ETUC, UNICE and CEEP. The parties are hoping to produce a text regulating this form of working. However, one pressing issue to be resolved is the final status of the accord, as UNICE has in the past indicated that it would prefer a voluntary agreement, against the preference of ETUC for an accord which could be given legal force.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) began European-level talks on the issue of teleworking on 12 October 2001. This development follows the European Commission's two consultations of the social partners on the issue. The first 'modernisation of work' consultation, launched on 26 June 2000 (EU0007259N) asked the social partners about their views on teleworking and economically-dependent workers. The second consultation, in which the social partners were asked to look specifically at the issue of teleworking, was launched by the Commission on 19 March 2001 (EU0103203F).

Under the terms of Article 138 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC), the social partners have nine months within which to negotiate an agreement, although this may be extended if the parties wish.

However, in contrast to the previous EU-level intersectoral negotiations, on parental leave, part-time work (EU9706131F) and fixed-term contracts (EU9901147F) (the most recent negotiations, on temporary agency work, ended in failure in May 2001 – EU0106215N), it is not clear whether the social partners are aiming to conclude an agreement which can then go on to form the basis of a Council Directive, or will be content with the conclusion of a voluntary accord. Article 139(2) of the TEC provides that agreements concluded at Community level may be implemented either 'in accordance with the procedures and practices specific to management and labour and the Member States' or, in certain matters covered by the Treaty and at the joint request of the signatory parties, 'by a Council decision on a proposal from the Commission'.

The reason for this lack of clarity is that, shortly before the Commission issued its second consultation paper, in March 2001, UNICE issued a statement that it would enter into talks on teleworking, but that it would be looking to conclude a voluntary agreement (EU0103203F). At the time, ETUC indicated that this would not be in accordance with its wishes, as it regarded teleworking as a form of work which needs an element of minimum EU-level regulation. It remains to be seen whether the current talks can resolve this issue to the satisfaction of all parties.

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