Several large companies sign agreements on teleworking

The social partners of several large companies in France have signed agreements developing the concept of telework. The agreements are based on the principles of the 2002 European framework agreement, transposed by a national interprofessional agreement in 2005. Both agreements focus on the need to reconcile demands for flexibility by both workers and their employer. The agreements represent a positive change in the attitude of French employers towards telework.

Background

Unlike other European countries, France has been reluctant to develop the system of teleworking. According to a DARES report (in French, 204Kb PDF) published in December 2004, only 2% of French workers practised this type of working arrangement in 2003 and only 5% worked away from their office making use of available technology.

A report (in French, 2.4Mb PDF) produced for the Centre of Strategic Analysis and published in November 2009 ranks France 13th in a list of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries that use teleworking. The report highlights that:

In the last decade ... France, compared to other countries within the OECD, has been late to develop teleworking, regardless of how this is measured.

However, a study (in French, 627Kb PDF) published in March 2009 by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) found that French employers have now ‘woken up’ and that ‘teleworking is developing rapidly: 22% of companies that use computers offered teleworking in January 2008, compared to 16% the year before’. INSEE also notes that the development of teleworking seems to be ‘the result of a change in behaviour of companies and their staff’.

The recent signing of several company agreements (within Atos Origin, Hewlett Packard and Renault) seems to confirm this tendency of the French social partners to develop teleworking. These company agreements put into practice the principles outlined in the European framework agreement of 16 July 2002 and the national interprofessional agreement of 19 July 2005. The agreements, which also reflect the environmental considerations of the social partners, are described below.

Atos Origin: teleworking reaffirms trust between managers and employees

The data processing company, Atos Origin, which has 15,000 employees in France, signed an agreement on teleworking on 15 April 2010 with representatives from five trade unions:

  • French Confederation of Management – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (CFE-CGC);
  • French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC);
  • French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT);
  • General Confederation of Labour (CGT);
  • General Confederation of Labour – Force Ouvrière (FO).

The agreement highlights three reasons for the decision to develop teleworking.

  • The nature of business activities and the development of technology ‘create the conditions so that the location of the buildings of the company does not determine the service provided’.
  • The time spent commuting to work ‘can sometimes significantly affect the balance between an individual’s private and professional life’.
  • There is a ‘growing concern’ about the pollution generated by transport.

These issues have led the company to offer some workers the opportunity to work remotely, as a result of improvements in technology, establishing a system of alternating periods of working on the company’s site and periods of working at home.

The signatories also add that the one essential factor for success is that teleworking reaffirms ‘the agreement of mutual trust between the individual worker and their manager’.

The agreement introduces two limits for teleworking.

  • The employee must be present in their workplace for at least two days a week, even if they work part time.
  • The employee cannot spend the majority of their working hours at home.

To introduce teleworking, the employer and employee must sign an additional clause in the contract of employment which sets out the financial obligations of the employer to the employee for using their home for work and establishes the times of the working week during which the employee is contactable by their employer.

The employer commits to providing and maintaining computer hardware and telephone equipment, provided to the employee, and agrees to a monthly allowance for the teleworker of €10–€20 a month to cover the costs of an internet connection and 50% towards the costs of the employee’s office equipment.

After a trial period of three months or less, the parties can end the agreement by giving one week’s notice, and the arrangement is then reviewed by the employee and their manager. If it is agreed that the trial was successful, the teleworking arrangement can continue on the basis of ‘double reversibility’ – that is, the employer and the employee can terminate the agreement by giving two week’s notice and the employee then returns to their workplace and employment position as before.

Hewlett Packard formalises 15 years’ of practice

The practice of teleworking has been used at the multinational information technology corporation Hewlett Packard for some 15 years and was recently formalised in a new agreement signed with the various trade unions on 6 July 2010. The agreement, which covers 5,000 of the company’s employees in France, recommends teleworking for older workers (over the age of 50 years), disabled workers and pregnant women.

Teleworking is voluntary and employees can refuse a request by their employer to telework without jeopardising their contract of employment. The employer can refuse a request by an employee for teleworking, who can then appeal to a joint committee established under the agreement.

In the event of the employer agreeing to the employee’s request, a clause is added to the contract of employment, renewable every two years, which sets out the precise conditions for the arrangement, for example the number of days the employee is permitted to work at home and the times the employee is contactable by their manager.

The rules of teleworking differ according to the origin of the request.

  • If the request is made by the employer, teleworking is fixed at a minimum of two days a week and a maximum of four.
  • If the employee makes the request, the minimum and maximum are fixed at one and three days a week respectively.

The new arrangement begins with a three-month trial period, during which time it can be terminated by notice from either party. Once put in place and if the employer has a ‘proven need’, the agreement can be suspended for one month. At any time throughout the agreement’s operation, either party has the right to end it by giving three months’ notice after which time the employee returns to their usual workplace.

The agreement contains measures for the employer covering the costs associated with the new arrangement, for example the employer provides a laptop and reimburses the costs of an internet connection. If the request for teleworking came from the employer, then the company must also help with the installation of office furniture such as a desk or office chair (to the value of €500–€750), and offer an allowance for heating and electricity.

Renault wants more than 400 teleworkers

On 22 June 2010, the car manufacturer Renault and three trade unions (CFE-CGC, CFTC and CFDT) renewed their previous agreement on teleworking which was originally adopted by all trade unions except CGT on 22 January 2007. In the agreement the social partners cite the fight against pollution as the key objective.

The agreement covers employees who work at home and not those who are already classified as ‘wandering’, that is, employees who, due to the nature of their job, work almost exclusively away from their company’s offices.

A total of 24,000 employees are potentially covered by the agreement and in reality about 400 employees practise teleworking (as laid down in the original 2007 agreement). The teleworking arrangements must be made on the basis of the employee spending a maximum of four days at home and a minimum of one day at the company’s premises.

One of the interesting elements of the agreement is the authorisation of teleworking from a location in addition to an employee’s permanent home address. For example, providing that the addresses concerned are their ‘usual [residence] and are located in France’, an employee could work from their holiday home or from a second address elsewhere.

The equipment used by the teleworker is provided by Renault, which offers a one-off fixed payment of €150 in addition to a monthly amount of €12 if the employee uses their own high-speed broadband.

Commentary

These three case studies demonstrate that teleworking is slowly becoming an important issue in company-level negotiations. A new agreement was concluded recently on 14 September 2010 between the consulting firm, Logica, and the representative unions (CFE-CGC, CFDT, CFTC and CGT). The five major unions (CFE-CGC, CFTC, CFDT, CGT and FO) also participated in the European-level negotiations on teleworking and all signed the national agreement implementing the European agreement.

Even though the unions have been involved in talks on teleworking at various levels, the volume of negotiations actually undertaken at a sector and company level is still small. Two factors can potentially explain this. First, unions and employer organisations have diverging positions on the matter. Unions want a collective framework to protect workers and act as an addendum to the employment contract, whereas employer organisations tend to view teleworking in terms of the potential it offers employers for more flexibility at work. Second, the specific cultural aspects of French management, which is particularly hierarchical, generate a perception among employees that when they are absent from the workplace, they will not be considered by their employer.

The diverging views of the social partners are further elaborated in the report from the Centre of Strategic Analysis which highlights two areas of disagreement. Trade unions have demanded that accidents which occur at home, while an individual is teleworking, should be considered as work-related injuries. In addition, the employers oppose the inclusion, within the employment contract, of the ‘reversibility’ aspect of teleworking which allows the teleworker to end the arrangement at any point and return to their workplace.

Frédéric Turlan, HERA

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