The European Parliament has approved a report penned by Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba calling for the right to digitally disconnect.

The right to disconnect would allow workers to disconnect from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails or other messages, during non-work hours.

Also known as the right to switch off, the concept developed as a result of advancements in communication technologies and its impact on people’s daily lives.

The widespread use of smart phones and other digital devices means that always being ‘on call’ has become a reality in many workplaces, as continuous remote access can create pressure for employees to be constantly accessible.

The expectation that workers are available at almost any time for online or mobile communication is now considered to be potentially hazardous to workers’ health.

Speaking after the vote, Mr Agius Saliba said that while digitisation brings about many benefits, the pressure to be always reachable and available is mounting.

“Working hours are extended and not necessarily fairly compensated. The boundaries between work and private life have become blurred. The human cost is high: from un-paid over time, to exhaustion and burnout,” he said.

He also said that practices of being obliged to answer work during free-time must stop.

“We all know the feeling of constant pressure to check in the evening, during the weekend, and in our free time, for work-related emails and messages, worried that our employer will demand our immediate attention.”

“During lockdown, one in three workers started working from home. For sure, telework has saved countless lives, but after months of remote working, many workers suffer from negative side-effects such as isolation, fatigue depression, burn out, muscular or eye illnesses.”

He continued, “Studies show that people who regularly work from home are twice as likely to work more than the maximum of 48 hours per week laid down in EU law. Working from home makes it particularly difficult to switch off.”

Mr Agius Saliba said that the intention of the report is to ensure that digital tools are used as an asset benefitting employers and workers alike, while their negative effects are mitigated.

He asserted that after work or while on holiday, employees must be able to switch off their phone or emails without fear of negative consequences.

The next step is now for the report to be adopted by the full plenary of the European Parliament.

Government has also expressed its intention to adopt similar legislation in the country, with Minister Carmelo Abela saying he expects a legislative framework on remote working to be proposed in the near future.

These legal regulations will introduce more flexibility for employers and workers themselves while also benefiting our country’s economic competitiveness,” Abela told a meeting of the General Workers’ Union (GWU), although further details remain unknown.

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