Statement of the European Regional Office WFTU on Teleworking

The imposition of teleworking from home due to the emergency measures to address the pandemic has intensified enormously.

It is clear that the pandemic period has favored the wider use of forms of teleworking from home and capital is seeking to benefit through its generalised application to once again wage attacks on working people’s rights. With the imposition of teleworking, capital aims to further promote flexible forms of employment and increase working time, attacking stable and permanent paid work. Teleworking does not bring “innovativeness” and “progress” as employers claim, but instead it returns working people to conditions that existed decades ago as it:

• Eliminates any distinction between working (and working place) and non-working time (and non-working time).

• Increases work intensity and weakens the collective dimension of work and its socialization dimension.

• Introduces surveillance methods into working processes and people’s homes by the use of cameras and other performance monitoring techniques.

• While the employer reduces operating costs, working people are called upon to the price for work needs such as the use of internet, electricity, furniture, heating etc.

• The exploitation of young female workers caring for young children or the elderly is growing.

• Teleworking is used by employers also as a strike-braking and anti-workers organization method.

• It is utilized as a means of infringing rights such as leave and holidays and for undeclared work.

At the same time teleworking is considered by employers as a panacea for solving many problems, including the difficulty of combining work and family life. Employers and governments are cultivating illusions about the benefits of teleworking for working people, while ignoring the negative consequences. They hide the threats and disadvantages that stem from its implementation, the real intentions behind its implementation and the impact it has on working people’s health and social life.

Various studies that have been carried out at a European and international level point to the negative effects of the imposition of various forms of teleworking on the health of working people and their social life. Studies show that teleworkers end up working more hours per day and per week, beyond conventional hours, at any time of the day or on weekends. The relevant studies also document the intensification of work, as well as the fact that working people are forced to work long hours that ultimately remain unpaid.

At the same time, the wider and continuous imposition of teleworking will bring the transfer of a significant production cost on working people themselves as companies readapt their fixed capital which they are investing in building facilities, electricity, the internet, computer acquisition or maintenance costs or other equipment necessary. That is to say, the exploitation of working people increases not only due to the extension of the working day, but also due to the indirect reduction of salaried working people who will be obliged to bear the corresponding production costs that the company will refuse to undertake.

Another area that is adversely affected by teleworking is working people’s health. Several studies point to health problems, such as musculoskeletal disorders, visual and mental fatigue and burnout syndrome. All of these factors lead to increased levels of stress and to a lack of well-being, low job satisfaction.

Long working hours and “flexible” working time lead to numerous problems such as sleep disorders, cardiovascular problems, mental illness and even certain forms of cancer.

The social life of every working person and his/her family members also lead to serious and negative effects because of teleworking. Through teleworking, work activity becomes part of the family environment, the daily life of a particular family, significantly increasing the level of interference and disturbances that work may represent in the life of a particular family, households. It is no longer just working people who are directly subject to the psychosocial dangers that exist in the employment relationship. It can be the whole family.

With the imposition of teleworking, working people are essentially led to isolation and this has a negative effect on unity and solidarity, as well as on their participation in trade union activities and the waging of class struggles.

More than ever it is necessary to put scientific and technical developments to serve the interests of the workers and not of its exploitation. Production and application of scientific and technical developments must remain mainly in public hands to guarantee that they are used to improve working methods and workers’ rights and not its submission and exploitation.

Isolated and alienated, working people fall victim to capitalist exploitation.

The pandemic it’s being used as a pretext to impose harsh working conditions and more exploitation of workers. Nonetheless, capital will face its resistance. Workers can count on the class-based trade union movement to wage the struggle.

These conditions create more responsibilities and duties to be fulfilled worthy of the 75-year old history of the WFTU. Responsibilities and duties to intensify our daily struggles and to coordinate our actions in Europe against anti-social policies. We need to send out the message that working people must not pay the consequences of the spread of the coronavirus with measures such as the imposition of layoffs, the implementation of flexible forms of employment and work from home.

Solidarity, unity and the militant mobilization of working people around class-orientated trade unions are a fundamental precondition for resisting attacks on labour rights and the perpetuation of flexible labour relations, for stable and permanent employment with regulated terms of employment and collective bargaining agreements so that working people who choose to work part-time have the same rights – guaranteed by current legislation and collective agreements – as working people within a company’s premises.