The High-Level Conference on the Future of Work, organised under the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, was on the theme of “Remote Working: Challenges, Risk and Opportunities”. Throughout the day, the different speakers looked at the changes in the labour market in recent years, particularly the new ways of working and of organising working time, reconciling professional and personal life and the right to disconnect.
© Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2021 / Pedro Sá da Bandeira
Session I – “Teleworking: an overview of the trends, opportunities, challenges and risks”
The panel, moderated by the Deputy Minister of Labour and Vocational Training, Miguel Cabrita, focused on the challenges of teleworking, which have become more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 27 countries in the European Union, 86% of people had never worked from home before the pandemic. The highest percentage of teleworking is in the north of Europe.
The Portuguese government is preparing a Green Paper on the Future of Work in Portugal “to turn uncertainties into opportunities”. The aim is to regulate the new ways of working and to respond to the challenges of classifying labour relations, particularly for digital platforms and teleworking.
The pandemic has speeded up the adoption of this type of work, which was hitherto unknown to the vast majority of European workers. Workers and employers seem to prefer hybrid systems, working from home and working in the office, as the best model for the future.
Session II - “Right to disconnect and reconciling professional and personal life”
In the second session, moderated by the President of the European Economic and Social Committee, Christa Schweng pointed out that the work done by around 37% of workers in the European Union is compatible with teleworking.
During the session, the importance of separating personal life and professional life was discussed, as this is one of the major challenges of teleworking. In a study carried out by Eurofund in 2015, teleworkers said they felt more pressured into working more hours each day, and the majority of them had trouble disconnecting from work.
New technology poses problems for the right to disconnect and represents new challenges, which also affect gender equality. Women are subject to 2340 more hours of housework per year than men.
It will therefore be essential to focus on a social dialogue that results in specific legislation, with the foundations already having been laid through the 2002 European Framework Agreement on Telework, signed by social partners, and through the 2021 recommendation from the European Parliament on the “right to disconnect”.
© Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2021
Session III – “Access to social protection, worker representation and involvement, social dialogue and collective bargaining in the new ways of working”
The third session of the conference was moderated by the Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, who emphasised the importance of learning the lessons of the COVID-19 crisis. Esther Lynch also pointed to the insecurity felt by workers during this time, afraid of becoming ill, losing their jobs or their income and not having protection in order to continue paying their monthly bills.
It is important to build a balanced path in the regulation of the new ways of working and to allow broad access to social protection, as well as to find a balance in the regulation of teleworking, learning from the experience gained during the pandemic.
The most reliable mechanism for reaching balanced solutions in this area is collective bargaining. This is why the general consensus is that any European initiative in this area must be built through dialogue with social partners.
In the opinion of the speakers, these are fundamental steps towards assuring the suitability and effectiveness of European provisions on labour issues and also on the social protection plan.
Session IV – “Regulation of the labour market, effectiveness of legal rights and obligations and health and safety at work”
In the last panel discussion was focused on the new challenges to the application of labour legislation brought by teleworking and working through digital platforms, as is the case of home deliveries.
Labour bodies and supervisory authorities alike find it difficult to monitor the factors that influence health and safety at work. The risks inherent to inappropriate working conditions go from physical health issues, such as back pain or obesity, to mental health, due to isolation, stressful situations or anxiety. Issues which are not provided for in current labour legislation.
The speakers concluded that regulation of the labour market in the digital economy is fundamental. Teleworking needs specific legislation, which should apply to all countries, given that physical borders become blurred when the place of work can be anywhere in the world.