A study on remote working across the EU has revealed that in Malta telework is heavily regulated by State legislation with limited say by the unions on the matter due to the relatively low number of employees covered a collective agreement. As a consequence, telework regulations might not include such a high level of protection.  This conclusion stems from a Eurofound report titled Telework in the EU: Regulatory frameworks and recent updates.

As part of this study the authors analysed the various types of telework arrangements and grouped them in six main clusters. Malta along with a host of Eastern European countries was described as having a State-centred governance model as they concluded that collective bargaining played “a marginal role” in the regulation of telework.  With some minor exceptions (Bulgaria, Czechia and Lithuania) there is no sectoral collective bargaining in this cluster and only very few companies address telework through single-employer bargaining.

On the other hand, if social partners have a strong role this is likely to have a positive impact on the inclusion of provisions which aim at a high level of protection of employees.

In Belgium, France and Luxembourg the EU Framework Agreement on Telework was implemented through national cross-sectoral agreements that were extended to all employees. Currently, the defining feature of this cluster is that statutory legislation is combined with cross-sectoral national binding agreements (France) or is the result of national binding agreements that are translated into legislation (Belgium and Luxembourg). Moreover, statutory legislation leaves the implementation of several key aspects of telework regulation, including the right to disconnect, to collective bargaining or social dialogue at company level.

In the third cluster which comprises countries Austria and the Netherlands, statutory legislation on telework is very broad and multi-employer collective bargaining plays a prominent role, in a general industrial relations context characterised by high collective bargaining coverage rates and a high degree of centralisation and coordination.  In Austria, legal regulations for ‘home office work’ (which is the legal term used) came into effect on 1 April 2021 through amendments of different pieces of legislation. This legislation is very broad and addresses specific aspects only in terms of the provision of infrastructure/reimbursement for the purchase of office furniture and questions of liability in the case of an accident. Accordingly, key aspects of the telework regulation are still left to social partners, who deal with them through sectoral and company collective agreements.

A fourth cluster is made up Italy and Spain, Greece, Portugal and Slovenia. Prior to the pandemic, collective bargaining on telework played a relatively marginal role in these countries. However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, social dialogue and collective bargaining gained more relevance in some of these countries. In Spain, new statutory legislation was agreed with the social partners. Moreover, new sectoral and company agreements have regulated telework in diverse sectors. Italy currently has the highest number of sectoral collective agreements, according to information provided by national contributions.

Portugal and Slovenia report a number of sectoral agreements. In Greece, there are no sectoral agreements in force, but a new national general collective agreement was being negotiated in 2022, and the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) was requesting the transition to a regulated telework regime, including an updated definition of telework, enhanced protection of teleworkers through collective employment agreements and the right to disconnect.

In the Nordic countries telework has been addressed through different laws addressing the work environment (for example, the Occupational Safety and Health Act in Denmark and Sweden, and data protection legislation in Sweden). In the case of Finland, telework is regulated only indirectly through statutory legislation, as part of general labour law. In general, the content of the legislation on telework is scarce in these countries and regulates only a few aspects of this work arrangement. However, collective bargaining and informal agreements based on trust play an important role.

Another type of cluster is that made up by Cyprus and Ireland, which follow a market-oriented governance approach. In Cyprus, there are no regulations at any level. This means that telework is regulated only through unilateral employer decisions, individual agreements or other types of individual voice mechanisms. Similarly, in Ireland, there is no specific regulation on telework, although the government is planning to develop legislation in 2022.  Notably, in countries with a small number of collective agreements and without national-level legislation, there will be groups of employees without protection because there is no regulation safeguarding them in relation to telework