EU should guarantee right to disconnect, Agius Saliba suggests

Alex AGIUS SALIBA in the EP in Strasbourg

Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba is proposing that the EU should introduce legislation to guarantee workers’ right to disconnect, an issue which has gained greater importance with the increased use of teleworking and digital technology.

To this effect, the Maltese MEP has drafted an own-initiative report on the matter, which was discussed by the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee on Monday. The committee is set to vote on his report in December, ahead of a possible vote in plenary.

Agius Saliba pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic led to a spike in teleworking and the use of digital tools, and recognised that this could bring about many advantages: not least flexibility of working arrangements, the potential to improve work-life balance and a reduction in commuting times.

But it has also brought about an “always connected” culture, in which people are expected to be constantly available, the boundaries between private and working life are blurred and fair working conditions are threatened.

The MEP is thus suggesting that there should be safeguards at EU level to ensure a minimum level of protection for workers through a Directive on the Right to Disconnect, that should apply to all workers  in all sectors of activity.

“I hope we can really make a difference in the lives of millions of workers throughout the EU,” Agius Saliba concluded.

On behalf of the European People’s Party, Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský agreed that the right to disconnect should be a fundamental right for all workers, though he emphasised the need to take into account the differences and disparities between various sectors. While he felt that the EU should promote the right to disconnect and to urge national authorities to introduce measures, he said he was not fully convinced that this should be done through a new legal instrument.

Estonian MEP Yana Toom, from the liberal Renew Europe group, said that one must ensure the right to properly connect before ensuring that to disconnect.

Portuguese José Gusmão, from the left-wing GUE/NGL group, suggested that collective bargaining should serve to determine the type of teleworking to be used. He emphasised the need of a right to disconnect, stating that the issue went hand-in-hand with the gig economy.