As remote work has grown exponentially in workplaces across many sectors since the Covid-19 pandemic, workers have increasingly formulated longer-term demands to shape how remote work is carried out, notably in the ICT & business services (including contact centres) and finance sectors. While many workers in these sectors benefit from working at least part-time remotely – fewer commutes, better work-life balance – the challenges that increasing levels of remote work present to workers and trade unions need to be addressed in the context of collective bargaining and social dialogue.
If not collectively negotiated and adequately implemented, remote work can threaten fundamental trade union rights to freedom of association, collective bargaining and organising, especially when trade unions’ access to remote workers is not guaranteed.
As more women than men tend to work remotely, it can allow them to better enter the labour market and find a better work-life balance. However, it may also lead to a loss of representativeness for the female workforce if they become ‘invisible’ workers, with less access than in-office counterparts to career development, networking, and training opportunities. As was reported during the pandemic, making your home your workplace can also increase the risk of domestic violence.
Further risks linked to remote work are related to safety and (mental) health, lower levels of innovation and creativity, intensified workloads, longer working hours and digital connection, the need for appropriate compensation for direct and indirect costs, strains on the employment relationship, worker surveillance, and the impact on lower income workers in inadequate housing situations.
For all these reasons, workers need strong collective bargaining agreements with full trade union involvement to ensure the best possible remote work arrangement.
Against this background, UNI Europa Finance & ICTS launched an EU-funded project started in May 2023, while the first in-person meeting of the project’s steering group and experts took place on 12 September. The two-year project intends to contribute to the ongoing debate on remote work, exchange good practices and make recommendations to prevent a loss of representativeness and power of trade unions by enabling collective bargaining and organising, with a specific focus on female remote workers.
The project will address questions such as: How can unions respond to this new form of work organisation, grow their representativeness, strengthen social dialogue and ensure that women’s voices are heard in the context of remote work? What needs to be negotiated at social partner level? How can we ensure that trade unions receive the right training to be able to carry out this role in this new work reality?
It is clear that trade unions must have a central role in defining and implementing policies related to remote work and negotiate strong provisions in collective bargaining agreements to ensure that workers’ rights and conditions (including on freedom of association, health & safety, data protection, equal opportunities etc.) are applicable to all workers no matter their preferred way of working.