Emmanuelle and Serge Remy have collected 5,933 signatures for their petition to make remote working a right in Luxembourg
Photo: Remy family
A right to work from home up to half of an employee’s contracted hours, with the possibility of legal recourse in case of refusal by the employer--this is what Serge and Emmanuelle Remy have called for in a petition to be debated in parliament in the coming months.
The question of the “right to work from home” will be debated in parliament, but we will have to be patient. Serge Remy, who works in the financial sector, and Emmanuelle Remy, a social worker, filed a petition on 19 April on the subject, which closed on Thursday 4 June at midnight. It collected 5,933 signatures, far more than the 4,500 needed to open the debate.
Parliament has given them the option of using the remaining permitted time to gather more signatures or pushing for a speedier debate.
What will you choose, a maximum of signatures or a quick debate?
Serge Remy: There's no point in having thousands more signatures. There have been other petitions on the same subject. We realise that the debate is ripe in society, so we might as well go now.
What do you expect from this debate in parliament?
Emmanuelle Remy: To have a place to discuss these issues. To see where the country is at the political level and try to create synergies. The most effective way to change society so that remote working is more widespread will be to open up a right.
What exactly do you mean by a “right” to work from home?
SR: If the employee asks to work from home, that the tasks can be carried out at home and that all the rest of what is in the labour law continues to be applied (a designation and control of tasks, etc.), then the employee has the right to work from home for a maximum of half of his working time.
When you have rights and you are unable to benefit from them, the last resort is the court. Yes, an employee could go to court to activate his right. That would reflect a social dialogue that has not worked at all. That is not our objective and I think that these cases will be very rare in Luxembourg. The aim is to succeed in making society evolve in a form of collective intelligence.
What does the law currently say about this?
SR: The place of work is determined by the employment contract. If the employee wants to telework and his employer does not agree, he cannot do so.
(Editor's note: The Grand-Ducal regulation of 15 March 2016 on telework states that it must be voluntary: “Refusal by the employee of a telework offer made by his employer does not in itself constitute a reason for terminating his contract of employment. Nor can the refusal justify recourse to Article L. 121-7 of the Labour Code to impose this form of work”).
If a right to telework is given, should it not be accompanied by a duty?
ER: As long as your boss asks you to telework and you don't want to, you risk losing your job. It is a question of social power. Afterwards, if an employee asks to work from home, it will be necessary to agree on certain tasks and the employer will be able to evaluate after two months whether the contract has been fulfilled.
How did you come up with the idea of a “right” to work remotely?
SR: We looked around us and we saw that telework was not very firmly rooted in customs. A series of employees wanted to, but employers had a somewhat phantasmagorical view. We saw in practice that it wasn't that bad. It allowed traffic to flow smoothly, reduced pollution and brought peace of mind to a whole series of people. So, we thought that if we could promote telework, it would bring many benefits.
Are you not afraid that employees will not dare to use this right if the balance of power is against them?
SR: There are already people who are asking for it, but who have no leverage. For societal changes to take place, there must be a right.
Some obstacles to teleworking remain, such as taxes and social security, which have to be paid in the country of residence after a certain period of time for cross-border commuters. These can be disadvantageous for the employee, but also for the company. How can they be solved?
SR: In practice, this threshold effect that everyone talks about is a fantasy. If we look at the statistics, we don't have hundreds of thousands of cross-border commuters who teleworked for 29 days last year (editor’s note: the threshold at which the French have to pay their taxes in their place of residence). It is 19 days for Germany and 24 for Belgium. Statec indeed shows that in 2018, 20% of workers were teleworking, but 13% teleworked less than one day a week.
The first obstacle is that teleworking was not widespread. If it becomes widespread, there will therefore be a possible threshold effect at 29 days. The most practical solution would then be to increase these ceilings for the three neighbouring countries to 47 days. If we take away the five weeks of paid holiday from the 52 per year, we arrive at 47, so that is one day per week. For several years now, Luxembourg has been asking itself the question of how to finance the enlargement of the A31 motorway. Instead, it could renegotiate the tax treaty and pay a little more on that side.
Your right to work remotely applies only to tasks that can be carried out from home. Who will judge this?
SR: We wrote the text of a bill and had it proofread by one or two lawyers, so I think it technically holds up. The proposed text says that the employee can ask to telework, and it is up to the employer to prove that it is not possible. It's called reverse onus.
If most cross-border commuters telework, couldn’t the effect be disastrous for Luxembourg’s restaurants and shops?
SR: Even if we are super-optimistic, in the medium-term cross-border workers will not be able to work more than 25% of their time, otherwise they risk paying social security in their country of residence. This means that three-quarters of the time they will still come to Luxembourg. Those who fill up their tanks, buy their cigarettes or do their shopping in the grand duchy will continue to do so.
After the debate in parliament, what will be the future of your petition?
SR: There is a range of possibilities. The most optimistic version is that the Chamber of Deputies, and through it the Luxembourg government, is saying that the debate is really ripe and that the proposal is on the right track. The professional chambers will have to give their opinion, and even if it goes very quickly, it will take a few months. On the contrary, if there is no consensus, it cannot be ruled out that nothing will move. It would be a missed opportunity, but we would still have the satisfaction of having changed the debate in society.