Employment and social affairs MEPs debate the right to disconnect

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On Monday 7 September the Employment and Social Affairs meeting featured the presentation of the draft report by rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, MT) on the right to disconnect.

The draft legislative own-initiative report by Alex AGIUS SALIBA (S&D, MT) gives specific recommendations on the critical elements for a future Directive on the Right to Disconnect, to be implemented at Union level.

Mr Agius Saliba pointed out that since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a spike in the number of employees who are teleworking and the use of digital tools is expected to become increasingly common. The draft report recognizes that digitalization has brought many advantages to employers and workers, such as flexibility of working arrangements, the potential to improve work-life balance and reducing commuting times. At the same time, the greater use of digital tools has resulted in an “always connected” culture, with some potential disadvantages, such as constant availability and long working hours, blurring the boundaries between private and working life and effecting workers’ fundamental rights, fair working conditions and health and safety at work.

The rapporteur therefore proposes safeguards at Union level to ensure a minimum level of protection for workers in the new digital world of work, by means of a Directive on the Right to disconnect that should apply to all workers who use digital tools in their work, including atypical workers, and to all sectors of activity, both public and private. The proposal recognises the important role of the social partners to tailor the specific needs and constraints of companies to the requirements of the future Directive. “I hope we can really make a difference in the lives of millions of workers throughout the EU,” concluded the rapporteur.

During the subsequent debate with the shadow rapporteurs, many issues were discussed.

On the one hand, the right to disconnect should be a fundamental right for all workers, said Tomáš ZDECHOVSKÝ (EPP, CZ). On the other hand we have to take into account the differences and disparities between various sectors. Existing legislation was formulated at a time when digital tools in the workplace were not yet common and therefore needs to be updated. The EU should promote the right to disconnect and urge national authorities to introduce measures to address the issue – but I am not fully convinced that this should be done by a new legal instrument.

Yana Toom (Renew, Estonia) considered that “We have to establish the right to disconnect depending on the nature of the job and I will table amendments with suggestions for definitions. However, before we ensure the right to disconnect, we have to ensure the right to properly connect. Can we ask someone to be connected without providing proper equipment or without paying for faster internet? “

Shadow rapporteur Elena LIZZI (ID, Italy) highlighted the importance of training and information for employees on the use and processing of data protection. She also pointed to the special position of women who usually undertake most of the household tasks and home schooling, which should be reflected in the report.

Working hours have become unpredictable and they longer than ever before, which has a profound impact on our physical and mental health, said Petra DE SUTTER (Greens/EFA, BE). She suggested adding figures to the report, for example from the European Working Conditions Survey. De Sutter furthermore stressed that existing legislative frameworks should be better enforced and called on the Commission to closely work with EU-OSHA for risk assessments and to include the right to disconnect in its new Health and Safety Strategy.

According to José GUSMÃO (GUE/NGL, PT), social partners should be fully involved in the type of teleworking to be used, and the way that it is to be done has to be defined by collective bargaining. He stressed that the right to disconnect should be guaranteed for all workers and that the issue goes hand-in-hand with the gig economy.

Procedure2019/2181(INL) – Legislative initiative procedure

Next steps: The Employment and Social Affairs committee is expected to vote on the draft report in December 2020.