The Malta Independent 2 March 2021, Tuesday

Employers will have to justify action against employees exercising right to disconnect - Agius Saliba

Shona Berger Saturday, 23 January 2021, 13:28 Last update: about 2 months ago

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba announced that if employers took action against employees who exercise their right to disconnect, it will not be the employee who will have to justify any actions taken, but it will be in the hands of the employer.

On Thursday it was reported that Labour MEP Agius Saliba’s report on the Right to Disconnect was approved by the great majority of the Members of the European Parliament.

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Agius Saliba was speaking at a press conference on Saturday, accompanied by General Workers Union (GWU) general secretary Josef Bugeja and UHM Voice of the Worker general secretary Josef Vella.

“Following a number of discussions with lawmakers and social partners, the message is very clear: to start working on this today before tomorrow in order to ensure that this right can be enjoyed as soon as possible by our workers,” Agius Saliba said.

The right to disconnect is a worker’s right which allows workers to disconnect from work and refrain from work-related electronic communications such as emails or other messages, during non-work hours.

Agius Saliba remarked that nowadays, we live in a situation where digitalisation is affecting us not only positively but also negatively, especially on those people who are working from home for the first time due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Statistics have shown that 30% of telework workers state that they are working during non-working hours as they feel the need to reply to a message, call or email, especially when they are at home.

He added that with the right to disconnect, the worker is given all the information regarding how to use the digital tools, when connecting and disconnecting. In addition, the worker should be given all the information of how working hours are recorded and should also be notified on how the method by which derogations for the right to disconnect will be used.

“In the event of such derogations, the worker shall be fully compensated for working during non-working hours. These should only be used in an emergency, and not made a norm,” Agius Saliba said.

In addition, Agius Saliba highlighted that unions such as GWU and UHM are instrumental in implementing the right to disconnect.

He explained that this right will be given with some flexibility, so the unions will have the possibility to negotiation on behalf of the workers, depending on their profession.

GWU general secretary Bugeja remarked that after thorough research and several discussions about the right to disconnect and how it can be used, “we saw that this is a fundamental right which will be benefited by many workers.”

“We have to be certain we are building new workplaces that are better than before,” he said.

In addition, “we also need to start discussions in order to ensure that this right is implemented in a concrete way with all Maltese and Gozitans.”

Both Bugeja and Vella thanked Agius Saliba’s efforts and work for securing the vote in the right to disconnect, however, more work needs to be done in order to implement this right into practice.

Vella appealed that it is crucial that this directive needs to be strong and clear, leaving no room for interpretation.

He said that working during non-working hours causes severe stress for many, thus the right to disconnect is fundamental and of utmost importance to implement on a local level.

“Discussions need to go on an involved the board of employment relations, with the government on the front line,” he said.

Vella explained that there is no one-size fits all approach when implementing this right as everyone has a different role, therefore “it is our responsibility to analyse the legislation being proposed and find a balance between productivity and the rights of the worker.”

 

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