The fifth meeting of the Interest Group ‘Work-Life Balance’ took place on 4 May at the European Parliament under the patronage of Ms Evelyn Regner MEP (S&D) and Mr Thomas Mann MEP (EPP). Members of the European Parliament, representatives of trade unions, national Sunday Alliances, churches and civil society discussed ‘Digitalisation and the future of work – best practices and legislative challenges for Europe’. Over 55 participants in the Interest Group meeting discussed how to secure positive results from digitalisation and conclusions that can be drawn from these best practices for new working time regulations.
Digitalisation could offer greater freedom for employees to choose their working time and place. Nevertheless, Evelyn Regner, MEP stressed that this freedom turned too often in an obligation to work everywhere and all the times. “We have to adapt existing regulations to these developments and need a right to disconnect on a European level. A good and healthy work-life balance could only exist on a social base,” said Evelyn Regner.
Oscar Vargas Llave, Research Officer at Eurofound, who presented the new International Labour Organisation/Eurofound study on information and communication technologies (ICT) mobile work and telework. He explained that against this background, that workers report a reduction in commuting time, greater working time autonomy leading to more flexibility in terms of working time organization, better overall work-life balance, and higher productivity as a positive effect of new ICTs. Vargas also stressed, however, that ICTs also tend to lead to longer working hours, create an overlap between paid work and personal life, and to result in work intensification. These ambiguous effects of new technologies in addition to the changing organisation of working time would have to be reflected in working time regulations.
Since 1 January 2017 French workers have had the right to disconnect. Mireille Jarry, Counsellor for Social Affairs at the French Permanent Representation to the EU explained that French companies with more than 50 workers are required to negotiate with the employees to define the right of employees to switch off mobile devices. Even though no sanctions are foreseen for non-compliance, the provision is seen as a big step forward in order to reconcile work and private life.
Christof-Sebastian Klitz, Head of the Volkswagen Group EU Representation, provided those in attendance with more insights on initiatives to improve work-life balance. In addition to its “no emails after work”-policy, Volkswagen is testing a new teleworking scheme, which allows employees to work from home one day per week. Volkswagen foresees a trial period of six months for this initiative, which includes fixed home working hours of 9:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 18:00.
Flexible working conditions are also the solution for the insurance provider Allianz. Burkhard Ober, Head of the Allianz SE European Affairs Office, stressed that there has been a change in what is important for employees. Whereas in the past “money and a car” were the decisive factors in attracting workers, today questions of work-life balance and flexibility are key. Employers have to adapt to this development and use the opportunities provided by electronic devices in this regard. Thomas Mann MEP closed the conference referring to the current discussion of the European Social Pillar and with the call that the European Parliament has “to defend workers against the philosophy of the always-available employee.”