Monday

23rd May 2022

MEPs call for workers to have 'right to disconnect'

  • People who regularly work from home are twice as likely to work 48 hours-plus per week (Photo: Steinar Engeland)

The European Parliament has called on the EU Commission to put forward a legislative proposal guaranteeing the right of workers to disconnect outside working hours - without facing consequences from employers.

The 'always on' culture, resulting from the digitalisation of work, is having a negative impact on people's work-life balance, causing a rise in unpaid overtime, exhaustion, and burnout that must come to an end, MEPs said.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"The pressure to be always 'on', always reachable, is growing as the boundaries between private life and work-life are increasingly becoming blurred," said MEP Alex Agius Saliba, lead rapporteur on the initiative.

"[But] it is fundamental that we protect workers from the invasion of their rest time, ensuring that they have the right to rest and leisure and that the maximum limit of the workday is safeguarded," he added.

In an own-initiative report, approved last week (21 January), MEPs called for a new law that ensures that workers can ignore work-related tasks, such as phone calls, WhatsApp, emails and other digital communication, outside work, without repercussions.

In addition, the initiative points out the need to establish minimum requirements for remote working with clear working conditions, hours and rest periods - an issue has become even more relevant during the pandemic.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, working from home has increased by almost 30 percent in Europe.

However, studies show that people who regularly work from home tend to work during their spare time more than those working at their employer's premises - being twice as likely to work 48 hours or more a week.

EU commissioner for jobs and social rights, Nicolas Schmit, said it was essential to ensure "a healthy work-life balance and sound working conditions in the new digitised world," arguing that "people are not robots".

However, he told MEPs that social partners like employers organisations and trade unions have the "leading role" in making the right to disconnect a reality.

In the last few years, some member states - such as Italy, Spain, France or Belgium - have taken action by directly or indirectly mandating social partners to negotiate provisions of the right of disconnect, according to the commissioner.

Three-year delay

As more people are expected to work from home after the pandemic, the proposal has been welcomed by most trade unions as a step forward in the right direction.

However, they regretted that MEPs passed a last-minute amendment (tabled by Saliba, of the Socialists & Democrats, to his own report) which asks the commission to delay any legislative action for three years - meaning workers will probably have to wait a long time to see a legally-enforceable 'right to disconnect' enacted.

"This is unacceptable. Workers are experiencing the problem right now and need solutions," a group of trade unions said in a letter sent to MEPs before the vote.

According to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the apparent reason for such a delay is the existence of an "autonomous social partner agreement" on digitalisation signed last year.

However, this agreement does not mention the right to disconnect. Instead, it states that the "modalities of connection and disconnection" are a topic for negotiation between unions and employers.

The ETUC urged the commission to ignore the request for delaying EU legislation, arguing that "this amendment puts a weapon in the hands of those who oppose legislation on the rights and working conditions of working people".

Opinion

Amazon's spying on EU workers just tip of iceberg

Amazon is leading an assault on workers' rights in Europe, using big data and surveillance to crush efforts by workers to improve their conditions. It's symptomatic of a climate of impunity around breaches of privacy that benefit corporations over workers.

Analysis

Crumbs of comfort don't hide Europe's employment divide

On another day of drama and strife for the eurozone it was hardly surprising that a press notice revealing that unemployment in the eurozone has edged down to its lowest rate in more than three years was barely noticed.

Opinion

Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy

Granting EU candidacy status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will firmly anchor their ties with Brussels — and enable the EU to secure its place in the Black Sea region, connecting Europe to China and energy-rich Central Asia, bypassing Russia.

Opinion

The EU Parliament Covid inquiry: the questions MEPs must ask

A basic lack of transparency around the EU's vaccines procurement negotiations has prevented effective public and parliamentary scrutiny. It has also made it impossible to answer some of the key questions we put forward here.

News in Brief

  1. UK to send 'hundreds' of migrants to Rwanda each year
  2. Norwegian knife attacks were domestic dispute
  3. Sweden hits back at Turkey's 'disinformation' in Nato bid
  4. Germany's Schröder gives up one of two Russia jobs
  5. G7 countries pledge €18bn in financial aid for Ukraine
  6. Italian unions strike in protest over military aid for Ukraine
  7. Russia cuts gas supply to Finland
  8. Half of Gazprom's clients have opened rouble accounts

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. Missing guns amid rising far-right hate in EU
  2. MEPs boycott trip after Israeli snub
  3. What Europe still needs to do to save its bees
  4. Remembering Falcone: How Italy almost became a narco-state
  5. Economic worries and Hungary on the spot Next WEEK
  6. MEPs urge sanctioning the likes of ex-chancellor Schröder
  7. MEPs call for a more forceful EU response to Kremlin gas cut
  8. Catalan leader slams Pegasus use: 'Perhaps I'm still spied on'

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us