Covid-19 and Teleworking: Work-life balance for Local Agents in EU Delegations


Article written by Sunil Kumar, Ranjan Praktash Shrestha and Sumeet Thakkar


USHU urges the EEAS to ensure a fair approach teleworking for ALL categories of staff to ensure an equitable eWork-life balance during the pandemic.


The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately taken its toll and colleagues are mostly working from home in order to avoid contacts. Just recently, expatriate colleagues were offered a temporary and partial solution with the possibility to carry out at least 10 days of telework from abroad. However, this option is not yet available for Local Agents in Delegations who must telework from their place of employment.


Before the pandemic, the administration was averse to the idea of remote working as employers suspected that staff would disengage and productivity levels would drop. However, the evidence from the pandemic-forced teleworking suggests the opposite is true – working from home effectively means working more.


Several examples show that the majority of colleagues across all categories of staff are reportedly putting in extra hours and also working during the weekends. And that too is coming at a cost (payment for high-speed internet connections, higher electricity bills, purchases of suitable office furniture and in some cases working from limited spaces to name but a few).


USHU knows that the reality of each country is different:

  • In some countries, the overall situation has rapidly worsened with no/limited medical supplies and overcrowded hospitals with limited space for new patients resulting in high mortality rates.

  • Across the globe, staff have lost colleagues and their family members to this pandemic.

  • The ailing or suffering parents of Local Agents often live in cities other than the place of employment and need care – they cannot be left alone during these difficult times.

  • Even if colleagues take annual leave to visit their families in other cities, the quarantine measures reduce the time they can really spend with their families.

  • There are at times a complete lockdown at the place of employment and Local Agents have no access to their offices.

  • The global vaccination drive has been slower than anticipated. In some countries, it has just begun and in others, it has not yet started! Local agents remain very vulnerable in many countries.


All the above has affected mental health of some Local Agents and in some cases their dependents as well.

Under the current circumstances, Local Agents may need to leave their normal place of employment to travel to a safer destination in the same country and to work from there without compromising working time or productivity. Despite this, the EEAS is not considering this option to telework from elsewhere within the country for Local Agents. While expatriate staff – at least at present – combined with annual leave can tele-work from even Europe (from a different time zone!) for at least 10 working days, local agents are deprived of this possibility and without any convincing justification. Whilst several International Organisations including the UN, allow their staff to work from anywhere in the country until further notice, the EEAS continues to turn a blind eye to such an arrangement for its Local Agents working in Delegations. Therefore the EEAS should establish minimum guidelines with an adjusted approach for each place of work.


Proposals

  • The EEAS must find a balanced approach to deal with different staff categories during the crisis.

  • Flexible measures are needed not just for expatriate staff but also for Local Agents, who need to be with their families during this time of crisis.

  • Local Agents should be allowed to work from other parts of their country if justified, in order to care for other family members or to be in a safer location during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Any arrangements can be regularly reviewed based on the vaccine roll out and the pandemic situation in a particular country.

  • Business continuity is guaranteed, as Local Agents will continue to telework from elsewhere within the country.

  • Furthermore, EEAS should consider reimbursement of fixed allowance to all staff for furniture, internet, electricity, etc.


The right to disconnect must be respected for all staff

USHU extends its support all staff in Delegations at the time of this crisis!





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