Any legislation on the right to disconnect must avoid creating grey areas, but at the same time must be flexible enough to safeguard workers without impacting productivity levels.

UHM Voice of the Workers CEO Josef Vella gave this reaction following the historic vote taken last week in the European Parliament which called for a European directive on this matter. In, turn this has prompted governments in EU members states to take the initiative themselves by enacting the necessary laws.

“There should be a strong and clear law without room for various interpretations, while unions should be flexible in order for a smooth implementation in collective agreements. However, a one-size-fits-all approach should be avoided. It will be up to the unions to adapt the law in a manner which will not impact productivity levels in full respect of this right,” Vella told Voice of the Workers Weekly

The concept emerged for the first time around 20 years ago in France at a time new means of communications like emails, internet and mobile phones started to emerge.

The watershed moment came in 2001 when a French court held that the employee is under no obligation either to accept working at home or to bring there his files and working tools. In 2004 the Supreme Court upheld this decision and ruled that the fact that the employee was not reachable on his cell phone outside working hours could not be considered as misconduct.

However, it was only with the advent of remote working that the debate on the right to disconnect came to the fore. Around the 2010, the issue rose to prominence at EU level amid intense lobbying from the European Trade Union Confederation.

“Being ‘always on’ and constantly aware of incoming emails during non-working hours fuels a sense of apprehension if not fear that failure to follow them up from home might result in repercussions. Scientific research has confirmed that workers in this state of mind are subject to constant stress and unable to enjoy their free time,” the UHM CEO remarked.

Vella described the EU parliament vote as a huge step forward but at the same time said this was only the beginning. He called on the EU for a strong response at this critical moment of its existence.

“Experience shows that even when there are good intentions the outcome might leave much to be desired. The EU has experienced turbulent times in recent years and this is a golden opportunity to showcase itself as a powerful institution to safeguard workers’ rights,” he said.

On the other hand, government should not dwell on this issue and take the initiative through the Employment Relations Board to legislate in favour of this right. In this respect Vella said that the Occupational Health and Safety Authority should be roped in the discussions as this issue falls within its remit.

“Unfortunately, there have been instances whereby employees faced disciplinary action over communication received during non-working hours. Workers have a fundamental right to enjoy their free time and research shows that the absence of such guarantee hinder their performance,” Vella said.