European social partners sign telework agreement
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in World of Work, 2002
European employers representatives and trade unions have negotiated a new European Union-wide framework agreement on teleworking.
The agreement, signed at a ceremony in Brussels in July (2002), marks the culmination of almost a decade of debate at European level about how to regularise conditions for those working in new ways with information and communication technologies. It is also the first time that employers and workers representatives in Europe have established an agreement which they themselves undertake to implement, without recourse to European legislation.
Telework, which historically has proved a difficult term to define, is used in the agreement to mean work which makes use of IT and is carried out away from employers premises on a regular basis. Potentially, therefore, the agreement covers many mobile workers as well as home-based workers.
The agreement was negotiated between three European employers bodies and the European Trade Union Confederation. It covers a number of points. The first establishes that telework should be voluntary with an explicit right to return to conventional working at a workers or employers request (except in cases where the initial job description specifies that the post is a teleworking one). Teleworkers are to benefit from the same employment rights and conditions as their colleagues who are working conventionally, and employers are generally expected to provide the equipment used by teleworkers and to take responsibility for data protection safeguards.
Employers remain responsible for the health and safety of teleworking employees, in line with standard legislation. Among other things, the agreement also covers privacy rights and issues.
The agreement builds on numerous collective telework agreements within individual companies (particularly those in the IT and telecom sectors), and on national and sectoral telework agreements and codes of practice established in several EU member states. More recent antecedents are the two EU-wide sectoral agreements on telework, negotiated for the telecom and commerce sectors between employers and UNI-Europa.
In the context of European social partnership, it is the voluntary nature of the framework agreement which has received particular attention. It makes use for the first time of the voluntary route established in Article 139 of the EU Treaty, and is seen as a model for future social partnership agreements.
European Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, in welcoming the agreement as a landmark deal, called it a sign of the "coming of age" of European social dialogue. Monitoring of the agreement is to be undertaken by an ad hoc group made up of the signatory parties with a joint report on the process of implementation required within four years.