Diversity in implementation of telework agreement across the EU

For the first time, the European social partners have presented a joint report on the implementation of an autonomous agreement on telework. The report provides an overview of the procedures, instruments and progress of the agreement’s implementation, and highlights the variety of implementation results and differences in reporting. The implementation procedure was not completed in all European countries.

On 11 October 2006, the cross-sector social partners at European level presented their implementation report (1.36Mb PDF) on the framework agreement on telework (107Kb PDF) (press release (80Kb PDF); IP/06/1351 (73Kb PDF)). The parties involved comprised the: European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC); the Industrial and Employers’ Confederation of Europe (Union des Industries des pays de la Communauté européenne, UNICE); the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME); and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP).

The framework agreement on telework, a landmark agreement signed on 16 July 2002 (EU0207204F), established a general framework at EU level. Organisations affiliated to ETUC, UNICE, UEAPME and CEEP had to implement the agreement in accordance with the national practices and procedures specific to management and labour in the EU Member States. For the first time, the European social partners directly implemented an autonomous agreement under the procedures provided for in article 139, paragraph 2, of the Treaty of Maastricht. The signatory parties had set up an ad hoc group working under the responsibility of the social dialogue committee to prepare a joint report on the actions taken on the implementation procedures. The report provides an overview on the procedures and the current status of the implementation.

Procedures and instruments

By June 2006, the framework agreement was implemented in the majority of EU countries, except Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia. Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia failed to submit a final national implementation report by this date.

Member organisations of the agreement’s signatory parties agreed on instruments and procedures that reflect a huge disparity both in the implementation and in the development of innovative social dialogue practices. In this regard, the European social partners consider that the difficulties met are due to the lack of experience among member organisations in implementing a European framework agreement, the novelty of the issue and the diversity of industrial relations systems in the various Member States.

Social partner agreements

In Finland, Latvia, Spain and Sweden, the framework agreement was implemented through general social partner agreements, which formulate guidelines for negotiators at sectoral or company level. In Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg and Sweden, the social partners chose to implement national or sectoral collective agreements. In the UK and Ireland, the social partners opted for codes of conduct.

National legislation

In some countries, the social partners decided to call on public authorities to implement the framework agreement through legislation. The provisions of the framework agreement were introduced into the labour codes in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Portugal. In Poland, the social partners hope to take advantage of the current revision of the Labour Code. The social partners in Belgium and Luxembourg called on public authorities to act on some aspects which were considered to be beyond the social partners’ remit.

Key issues

All aspects – such as the voluntary nature of telework, employment conditions, data protection, privacy, equipment, health and safety, work organisation and training – were implemented in accordance with the regulations of the framework agreement. The national agreements often specify the regulations in more detail.

With regard to data protection, health and safety, or working time, reference was made to the existing legislation. The list of mandatory written information to be given to the teleworker often included the provision stipulating that all matters concerning work equipment, liability and costs have to be clearly defined before starting telework. It was also emphasised that teleworkers should not be isolated from colleagues who remained at the employer’s premises. Collective rights issues are recognised in all implementation instruments.

Commentary

In their multi-annual work programme 2006–2008 (EU0605019I), the European social partners announced plans to intensify their common understanding of autonomous agreements. They consider that the implementation of the telework agreement marks an innovative stage in the process of underpinning the autonomy of European social dialogue.

The implementation is a step forward for European, national, sectoral and company industrial relations. Nonetheless, the diversity of the implementation within the national industrial relations mechanisms and the fact that the framework agreement is not fully implemented in all Member States demonstrates the need for improvement in this area. In relation to the European social dialogue and implementation of agreements, the question remains whether the so-called ‘voluntary route’ provides the most effective and direct way to guarantee the protection of workers.

Anni Weiler, AWWW GmbH ArbeitsWelt – Working World

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