Company agreements focus attention on teleworking

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Company agreements reached at Telecom Italian Mobile (Tim) in November 1997, and at Electrolux Zanussi in December, have focused attention in Italy on teleworking.

In recent years, teleworking has begun to appear on the agenda of company-level bargaining in Italy, and even more recently of sectoral bargaining as well. In the majority of cases, teleworking has been introduced on an experimental basis, so that experience of such work has consequently been restricted to only a marginal part of the workforce of the companies concerned. Nevertheless, despite the limited use of telework (which is less widespread in Italy than in many other European countries), bargaining has led to the definition of quite similar regulatory frameworks in each of these companies.

To date, the two industry-wide agreements covering telework are: the agreement signed by the telecommunications companies affiliated to Intersind (the association of state-owned enterprises which, as a result of privatisation, is now part of Confindustria), signed in September 1996; and the agreement reached in the commerce sector in June 1997 (IT9707118N). The most complete bargained definition of teleworking is to be found in the national contract for the commerce sector, which identifies four types of telework:

  1. homeworking, when the work is performed in the worker's own home;
  2. out-working, when the work is performed at a distance from the company's premises in a variety of locations (examples being maintenance services or on-site assistance to clients);
  3. remote working, when the work is performed at a collective work station at a distance from the company but still belonging to it; and
  4. "hoteling", when work stations are made available in the company for workers who usually operate off-site.

Significant company agreements on telework have been reached in the following firms:

  • Telecom Italia, with an experiment in homeworking;
  • Seat, with a homeworking experiment involving 39 people;
  • Saritel, with a restructuring agreement which has introduced out-working for some of its sales personnel (about 10 people) and remote working for the staff in one of its branch offices (four persons);
  • Italtel, with an experiment in homeworking which has involved 13 people; and
  • Digital Equipment, with an experiment in homeworking which has involved 10 people.

Finally, it should be pointed out that the most significant case of teleworking, that of IBM, has not gone through the bargaining process. In the Italian subsidiary of IBM, in fact, more than 3,000 workers (systems analysts, technicians, managers and sales representatives) were already teleworking in 1996, under a system which combined out-working, homeworking and "hoteling" to various degrees, depending on the job. In the past, the issue of telework at IBM has been addressed by a joint committee of management and the Rsu company trade union representation body, but agreement on its regulation has never been reached.

The two most frequent forms of telework resulting from company bargaining are homeworking and out-working. The two latest company agreements in this area illustrate well the differences between the two types of telework.

The Tim company agreement

An agreement on teleworking was concluded at Telecom Italian Mobile (Tim) on 14 November 1997, as part of the complementary company-level agreement, which provides a significant example of the Italian experience of out-working. The Tim experiment in telework is to be conducted in the company's technical sector for network maintenance workers, and in its commercial sector for sales personnel. Under the terms of the agreement, the aim of the project is to achieve a significant improvement in the quality of the service.

In the case of maintenance services, the innovation has reduced the amount of time spent on the company premises, given that a number of operations (including clocking in and out) can be performed using a computer provided by the company. There is no change in the working hours of maintenance staff or in the places where they perform their job tasks, which remain the same as those of their colleagues with work organised along "traditional" lines. However, controls on their work activity have indeed changed.

The sales personnel will be given apparatus (computer, printer, mobile phone with a modem) which will enable them to "hook up" to the company's information system and thus work in constant contact with headquarters. The aim of the initiative is to increase the sales personnel's response capacity when dealing with clients by enabling constant on-line consultation with the company.

If, on completion of the experimental period, the system is extended to all the maintenance and sales staff, around 35% of the company's personnel might be involved in telework.

The Electrolux Zanussi agreement

The Electrolux Zanussi agreement, signed on 6 December 1997, fits the homeworking category very well. The agreement was reached on the basis of a proposal drafted by the national company equal opportunity committee (known as Ipazia- IT9706206F), and forms part of Zanussi's more general commitment to equal opportunities.

The agreement on teleworking provides for a two-year experiment involving a maximum of 40 female workers. The declared purpose of the project is to enhance the work experience, professional development and career advancement of pregnant women and women with young children. Its actual purpose is to forestall recourse to parental leave when this is not necessary. Even if the project has been conceived especially for female workers, it can also involve male workers, under the provisions of the Italian law on parental leave.

Assignment to telework is voluntary. The system has the following features:

  1. a work area separate from those normally devoted to everyday family life must be made available in the teleworker's home;
  2. this work area must comply with health and safety regulations;
  3. working hours are distributed throughout the day at the worker's discretion, according to the tasks to be performed. However, the worker must be present at certain times of the day to receive communications from the company;
  4. since working hours can be organised as the worker wishes, extra payments for overtime, night work and weekend work are not envisaged;
  5. the equipment necessary for telework is installed by the company, and at the company's expense. The worker may use this equipment only for company purposes. Moreover, the worker must guarantee access to the equipment for maintenance;
  6. the worker receives a lump-sum payment to cover the costs arising from the telework, like the occupation of space, electricity, and telephone charges; and
  7. the experiment will be monitored by the Ipazia committee, also with a view to extending the scope of the system.

Commentary

Italy has limited experience of teleworking as regards both bargaining and the actual implementation of this kind of work. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify a number of interesting trends.

Firstly, contract-based experiments in Italy have concentrated on two types of telework: homeworking and out-working. The former type of telework tends to be associated with a better management of working hours by both male and female workers, and with a more satisfactory conciliation of family commitments with work. The latter provides a certain amount of freedom in the management of working time. Above all it makes more free time available by eliminating or reducing commuting between home and work. However, out-working's main purpose is to increase flexibility and productivity by reducing the need to travel into the office for routine bureaucratic procedures (clocking in/out, transmission and reception of documents, etc). In a certain sense, homeworking and out-working represent two opposing tendencies. In the former case, a worker previously integrated into the corporate bureaucratic structure acquires autonomy in the management of his or her working hours and family commitments. In the latter, employees who habitually work off-site have greater opportunities, in both qualitative and quantitative terms, to integrate with the central information system.

Secondly, the opportunities offered by remote working - ie the shifting of labour demand to the areas of greatest supply - have apparently been neglected by both firms, except in cases of restructuring, and trade unions. Perhaps the job-creation potential of this form of telework could be better exploited by setting up specific projects.

Finally, it seems that the tendency towards out-working is relatively clear, and that it stems from the application of technological innovations to off-site work. Probably, some improvements in living and working conditions might be made possible by further developments in homeworking, although it is still too early to say what form these developments might take. As regards remote working, one might expect this system to have some positive job-creation effects in areas of high unemployment (Roberto Pedersini, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso)

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