The European telecom social partners – the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) and UNI Europa ICTS – released a joint statement on remote work. The statement is accompanied by a set of guidelines and recommendations for the implementation of remote working arrangements through social dialogue at the local level.
Remote and hybrid work models have been widely adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic. With this work, the social partners provide concrete tools for the sector to adapt to this societal and technological development. Moreover, the social partners promote the protection of employees’ rights, ensuring diversity, the ability to disconnect and the restriction of invasive surveillance methods.
The guidelines draw upon best practices, with a focus on occupational health and safety at work, work-life balance, working hours for remote workers, and training. They emphasize the importance of fostering dialogue between employers and unions to maintain equivalent employment rights and conditions for remote workers as for workers on the employer’s premises.
To ensure equal opportunities and gender neutrality, the joint statement recommends to assess the situation among remote workers to gauge the impact of this work model on work-life balance. Acknowledging that remote work and hybrid work models will continue to evolve with technological advancements, the joint statement emphasizes the importance of continued social dialogue to accompany these changes at the workplace.
While it may reduce face-to-face forms of harassment, remote work may increase the risk of technology-enabled harassment, such as work-related cyberbullying. The social partners call for the implementation or extension of policies to prevent, monitor, and minimize such situations, with a focus on raising awareness among all employees.
The prevalence of ICT tools can help remote workers to be more productive and replicate a digital work environment, but the risk of surveillance tools to monitor remote employees emerges. The social partners voice that such surveillance tools should be restricted, unless firmly regulated through national legislation or a trade union collective agreement.
The guidelines reaffirm that remote workers should enjoy the same rights as their office-based counterparts, including rest periods, hours of work, and the ability to disconnect from work-related digital communications, and adequate cybersecurity standards. By setting clear expectations and fostering a culture that respects digital disconnection, employers can support their remote workforce in achieving a healthy work-life balance.
While the guidelines are non-binding, the social partners are committed to finding and suggesting solutions to tackle difficulties related to remote work. The European telecom social partners encourage employers, employees, and policymakers to embrace the joint statement and utilise the guidelines to establish remote working arrangements that benefit both employers and employees. By doing so, organizations can adapt to the changing landscape of work while upholding employee rights and fostering inclusion.