European Parliament votes to adopt Maltese-led report on right to disconnect

The European Parliament has voted to adopt a report recommending legislative action on the right to disconnect, an effort that was spearheaded by Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba. 

The majority of MEPs at the session on Wednesday voted in favour of the report, with 472 votes in favour, 126 against and 83 abstentions. The results of the vote were announced in the parliament on Thursday afternoon. 

After debating the report during a plenary session in parliament on Wednesday, the parliament will now formally recommend that the European Commission propose a directive which will require member states to adopt a minimum set of standards that guarantee workers the right to disconnect. 

The right to disconnect or switch off, as it is sometimes referred to, is a concept that comes from the idea that due to work-related communication being carried out on modern technology, employees feel they are always ‘on call’ and feel pressure to carry out tasks like answering texts, emails or phone calls outside their regular working hours. 

Proponents of the concept say it has led to a degradation of quality of life as the consequences of constant connection lead to diminished rest time for workers. 

Labour MEP Agius Saliba spearheaded a report demanding the right to digitally disconnect, which the European Parliament’s employment committee approved in a vote last December.

In a video message posted to Facebook shortly after the vote was announced, Agius Saliba expressed his satisfaction that over 70% of MEPs voted for the adoption of his report.

“Despite the obstacles we faced, we continued to work hard to find compromises to keep this vote alive and ultimately for this important right to be given to all workers throughout member states,” Agius Saliba said. 

“Now it’s on the European Commission to enact this legislation that we wrote and negotiated to go into effect and be enjoyed by all citizens.” 

“We cannot continue to treat workers like robots and prevent them from enjoying their fundamental rights to rest, to enjoy their loved ones without being hampered by work-related texts and emails. Today the European Parliament voted not to turn its back on the workers it represents.”

Agius Saliba called on European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit to take action quickly and start discussions with the European Commission so that workers may have access to their rights as quickly as possible. 

His report recommends a directive that would introduce the minimum requirement of using digital tools outside working time and offer the right to disconnect for all workers and provide sufficient records of working time for workers to be able to impose their limits.

Employees will also be able to ask for fair compensation and be protected when looking to enforce their rights, to ensure they do not face negative repercussions as a result.

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