The Malta Independent 23 January 2021, Saturday

EU pushes for 'right to disconnect' from work at home

Thursday, 3 December 2020, 08:28 Last update: about 3 months ago

European Union lawmakers on Wednesday voted in favor of a “right to disconnect” from the internet and email, with around one third of people now working from home across the 27-nation bloc due in large part to coronavirus restrictions.

In a resolution, the parliamentarians argue that disconnecting from work should be a fundamental right and they want the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to draw up rules allowing people to take time out from the pressures of working at home.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work and we must update our rules to catch up with the new reality,” said Maltese Socialist lawmaker Alex Agius Saliba, who led work on the resolution.

“After months of teleworking, many workers are now suffering from negative side effects such as isolation, fatigue, depression, burnout, muscular or eye illnesses,” he said. “The pressure to always be reachable, always available, is mounting,” he said, resulting in unpaid overtime and burnout.

The resolution, which is non-binding, was passed by 31 votes to 6 against, with 18 abstentions in the European Parliament’s Employment Committee. It must still have to be rubber stamped by the full house, then submitted to the commission and national EU governments for possible endorsement.

In it, the lawmakers argue that the culture of being “always on” and the growing expectation that workers should be reachable at any time can hurt work-life balance, physical and mental health, and well-being.

They say home workers should be able to disconnect without facing repercussions from their employers.

Speaking after the successful vote on his report, S&D MEP Agius Saliba, said: “Digitisation brings many benefits and advantages for employees like greater flexibility or less commuting. However, there are also pitfalls. The pressure to be always reachable, always available is mounting. Working hours are extended and not necessarily fairly compensated. The boundaries between work and private life have become blurred. The human cost is high: from un-paid over time, to exhaustion and burnout.”

"More than ever, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic which brought an increase in remote working, we have been victims of our phones, emails, and computers. We all know the feeling of constant pressure to check in the evening, during the weekend, and in our free time, for work-related emails and messages, worried that our employer will demand our immediate attention. We have all received work-related calls and felt obliged to answer and work in our free time. Such practices must stop, and that is why we need a European Right to Disconnect. "

MEP Agius Saliba explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the very nature ofemployment, and emphasises that the Union needs to update its rules to catch up with the new reality. “During lock-down, one in three workers started working from home. For sure, telework has saved countless lives, but after months of remote working, many workers suffer from negative side-effects such as isolation, fatigue depression, burn out, muscular or eye illnesses. Studies show that people who regularly work from home are twice as likely to work more than the maximum of 48 hours per week laid down in EU law. Working from home makes it particularly difficult to switch off,” he added.

The Labour MEP said that the intention of the Report is to ensure that digital tools are used as an asset benefitting employers and workers alike, while their negative effects are mitigated. He asserted that after work or while on holidays, employees must be able to switch off their phone or emails without fear of negative consequences, noting that the right to disconnect is vital for mental and physical health. He explained that for this reason, the European Parliament is calling on the Commission to propose an EU right to disconnect for all European workers.

The right to disconnect allows workers to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks, activities and electronic communication, such as phone calls, emails and other messages, outside their working time, including during rest periods, official and annual holidays, maternity, paternity and parental leave, and other types of leave, without facing any adverse consequences.

The next step is for the Report to be adopted by the full Plenary of the European Parliament.

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