[email protected] ‘Future of work: Mobile working in a post-pandemic world of work’

On March 17, CESI hosted a lunchtime debate on ‘The future of work: Mobile working in a post-pandemic world of work’, together with the Bertelsmann Stiftung

Based on a discussion paper of CESI on ‘Our post-pandemic world of work: Focusing on telework or ICT-based mobile work (TICTM)’ and the recent European Parliament legislative initiative report on a right to disconnect, trade union experts and policy makers discussed the lessons learned from mobile work during the pandemic and presented their ideas regarding the future of teleworking. The panel consisted of:

  • Sara Rinaudo, Chair of CESI’s working group on the future of work
  • Alex Agius Saliba, MEP (S&D), European Parliament Rapporteur on the right to disconnect
  • Birgit Wintermann, Programme Manager ‘Business in Society’ at Bertelsmann Stiftung

During the debate, which was moderated by CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger together with Jürgen Noack, Head of Brussels Liaison Office at Bertelsmann Stiftung, timely questions were addressed regarding the regulation of teleworking and the fundamental rights that should be protected:

  • What elements need to be regulated and at what levels?
  • How can we create an organizational culture which ensures that that telework will stay a part of working life also after the Covid pandemic has been overcome? What is the role in this of the EU institutions, national governments, social partners, and trade unions?
  • Which parameters determine whether a right to disconnect is effective and working out without disadvantages for neither employers nor employees?
  • How to rule out digital surveillance of workers?
  • Who should be responsible for occupational health and safety during mobile working?
  • Who should pay for expenditures incurred by mobile working: the worker, the employer or, via tax relief, the state?

During the discussion it emerged that smart working is here to stay and that our societies should find the right balance in this new landscape. On the one hand, teleworking offers new significant opportunities that cannot be overlooked (such as better opportunities to reconcile job and domestic responsibilities, an improved accessible of labour to people with disabilities, and positive environmental benefits because of reduced fuel and power consumption), while, on the other hand, there emerge important risks most notably related fundamental working rights, human communication, and mental health.

The participants focused on the right to disconnect and agreed that the recent report of the European Parliament is a first attempt to guarantee that the TICTM workers do not need to remain at the disposal of the employer during non-working hours. But important issues are still open, it was said: Should the disconnection be automatic, or would this restrict flexibility? Is the disconnection only a right, or also an obligation? And also, how can we measure the working time at home?

Other issues that were discussed included the protection of TICTM workers’ personal data (and the need for transparent data collection and processing, a right to access information regarding actual working time, and protection against surveillance), occupational health and safety concerns (especially regarding increasing invisibility of psychological risks), and, of course, the role of trade unions that can prove useful in guaranteeing smart workers further and more detailed rules than the minimum protection set by regulations. The speakers agreed that further interventions are needed, including the strengthening of social dialogue on these matters and the establishment of new rights in mobile working, such as the right of a worker to choose between telework and work at the office, or the right of a teleworker to return to his/her office.

In his conclusions, CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger highlighted the importance of social dialogue in the new world of work, and sketched the features that the legislation covering these issues should have: “It has to be simple, it has to be clear, but it should apply according to the classification of work schemes and workers, their special needs and the work organisation. Social partners and social dialogue have an important role to play in this, both at sectoral and at company level.”