This is one of the outcomes of a high-level
conference held on March 9, 2021 under the Portuguese Council Presidency, which
focused on the challenges, risks and opportunities of mobile work. The four
sessions looked at key trends and the associated implications for professional
and private life, labour law, access to social protection as well as health and
safety at work. The results will be integrated in the Council's conclusions.
The world of work has changed as a result
of digitisation and new forms of work have emerged. In particular, developments
in mobile working have been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. According
to a study by the European Foundation for the Improvement of
Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) on "COVID-19: implications for
employment and working life", almost 50 percent of the EU workforce
teleworked exclusively or partially in July 2020, and 34 percent of respondents
teleworked exclusively from home (available in English only).
The Director-General of the International
Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder, recalled that telework has existed in
various forms for decades, but its growth and the so-called gig economy are
new. The number of digital platforms worldwide has increased fivefold during
the last ten years, i.e. not just as a result of the pandemic. It became
necessary to protect the rights of all workers regardless of their employment
status. Nicolas Schmit, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, warned that
decent working conditions should not be exchanged for flexibility. They should
rather stand side-by-side. Adequate working conditions would have to be
guaranteed regardless of organisational work models.
Right to non-availability
For the future, employees and employers
seem to prefer hybrid systems in particular, where work can be done from both
home and the office. The boundaries between work and private life could become
increasingly blurred as a result. This could contribute to increasing the
pressure of constant availability. It was important to have a social dialogue
leading to specific legislation. The European Framework Agreement on Telework of 2002, was signed by the
social partners, and the 2021 recommendations of European Parliament on the "right
to be unavailable" had already created a basis for this.
Access to social protection
It was important to find a balanced
approach to the regulation of new forms of work and to allow broad access to
social protection, as well as a balance in regulating telework, taking into
account the experience gained during the pandemic. This had led to insecurity
and fear of workers becoming ill or losing their jobs and income. The most
reliable mechanism for achieving balanced solutions is collective bargaining. Any
European initiative on labour law and social security issues should be
developed in dialogue with the social partners.
Health and safety at work
Teleworking and working via digital
platforms make it more difficult to monitor health and safety in the workplace.
Inappropriate working conditions could lead to health risks, ranging from
physical health disorders such as back pain or obesity to impaired mental
health due to isolation, stressful situations or anxiety. Regulating the labour
market in the digital economy is of fundamental importance. Telework requires
specific legislation that should apply to all countries, as borders become
irrelevant if the workplace can be anywhere in the world.