The right to disconnect

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By CAROLINA MARTINEZ ELEBI*

The intrusion of work into domestic life was a trend that the quarantine ended up amplifying. Employers and bosses trigger subordinates at any time. Many workers get sick from this

Preventive and mandatory social isolation, one of the central measures taken by the national government [Argentina] to combat the advance of the most global pandemic we know, has impacted many aspects of everyday life. Almost all routines have been changed or discontinued. And from one day to the next, people who hardly used computers or cell phones more than to send messages, browse social networks or play games began to have work meetings, teach classes and even celebrate birthdays through different applications.

Crises are said to accelerate trends that were already under way. Some of them are online shopping, distance education and remote work. Other discursive trends are also being surreptitiously imposed: mandates to “be more productive”, not just at work but in life, or “live connected”, present in advertising or suggested by “influencers”.

There are phrases that seem more and more familiar: “Are you there?”, “Can you review what I sent you?”, “I'll make a quick query”, “Sorry about the time, I'm writing now so I don't forget”. The examples are endless. Messages sent and received outside of anyone's business day, at any time or day of the week, by colleagues and superiors. It doesn't matter if someone works autonomously or with an employment relationship, if through a home office or if they have a defined schedule in the contract and a fixed work space.

This, which was already part of many people's routines, spread when remote work became the only option for those who need to continue working, despite the quarantine. From one day to the next, even the State, always characterized by office tasks, had to reinvent itself. According to a Randstad Workmonitor report from the last quarter of 2019, 49% of Argentines said their employer asked them to be available during the holidays, and 59% that they were asked to answer questions after working hours. Now, with workers at home, that earlier trend has accelerated sharply. Messaging and work schedules got out of hand and exploded at family dinner or Sunday afternoon in the middle of the rest break.

How is this intrusion countered? Demanding the right to disconnect. Faced with the growing implementation of these practices and technologies that erode the boundary between work and leisure, the need to reconcile the working day with personal and family life, in a fair and balanced way, is imposed as something urgent to resolve. Surrounded by the pandemic, the right to digital disconnection outside working hours is presented as a new labor right, necessary to guarantee workers' leisure time.

“I believe that the right to disconnect is an outstanding debt for workers in Argentina,” says Sofía Scasserra, economist at the “Julio Godio” World Work Institute at the University of Tres de Febrero (UNTREF). “There is constant evidence that workers were contacted at any time of the day, at any time, for different matters, for some time. Especially women, whom employers tend to ask them at many times: 'Make me agree to something like that,'” she explains.

This legal right emerged in France in 2016, when a law was enacted that included it as an object of mandatory negotiation in companies. In Argentina, on April 23, Senator Daniel Lovera (FdT) presented a bill to guarantee this right, on which he has been working with his team since 2019 and whose need becomes evident in the current context of isolation. “We are working on several projects in the world of work, including new rights, configurations of new working relationships, digital platforms, personal data protection and the right to disconnect. All are framed in the understanding of work as a fundamental human right”, says Lovera.

“You see, as things change, the worker needs protection. For that, we need regulation. In the project, we propose that the worker has the right to digital disconnection outside working hours and during vacations, without this implying a penalty and without rewarding those who do not use this right", says Lovera, who explains that what is sought with this project is to guarantee the mental rest of the worker during his free time. The project was handed over to the Labor and Social Security Commission, and Lovera hopes that the discussion will begin by the end of this month.

“In places where legislation has advanced, especially in Europe, it has had a calming effect on the uses and abuses of technology,” adds Scasserra. With these workers, who were constantly being contacted, you start to be a little more careful and there are a little more restrictions ”.

Gender disparity is another central element in this discussion. It is imperative that employer connection policies do not disadvantage women, who are the most burdened with care and household chores and may need more flexibility with regard to working hours and connection hours in their home. This is most evident with isolation measures, with working women who are mothers and try to work while taking care of the home and accompanying their children to distance classes and the tasks that teachers send them.

The exercise of the right to disconnect cannot and should not be based on individual responsibility. To face this problem, which is deepening in the general scenario of teleworking as a result of the current health emergency, it is vital that the approach is collective and imposes the responsibility of the business sector to comply with it. “What this law seeks to protect is the mental health of workers,” says Scasserra.

The anguish of not fulfilling

Emails and messages allowed the erosion of boundaries imposed by the physical world. “I answer quickly and that's it”, we think. There is an implicit or explicit expectation that the person receiving the email checks them at any time, and in the case of WhatsApp, in addition, the expectation of immediacy is added, seconds after knowing (double blue tick) that the message it was read. According to experts, this brings mental health problems associated with a permanently connected work dynamic.

Regulation, which is necessary, may not be enough if what reigns is a culture of productivity and uninterrupted work. It is essential to understand the importance of rest, leisure, connection with other activities and with the people around us. But why is regulation necessary? Because, even if we decide not to respond to the incoming message, we have already read it, we know that it is there and that it has just added a pending task to be resolved. It is no longer possible to disconnect.

“Many stressed people come to the office, with panic attacks or anxiety, who suffer from the inability to stop work. There appear the subjectivities of each person; for example, the fear of being fired, the fear that the elderly will be replaced or simply seem incapable”, explains Carolina Tripodi, graduated in Psychology from the UBA. “This happens not only among those who are unable to disconnect, but among those who succeed, because sometimes they are accused by other colleagues and carry this prejudiced look from their colleagues, as well as the demand from the boss”.

People must achieve homeostasis, a balance between body and mind, explains Tripodi, and “for this, it is recommended to rest, perform physical activities, play a musical instrument, meditate or perform any recreational activity that allows you to define the concentration here and now,” he says. Many patients, he explains, seek help when the symptom is already in the body, but he suggests paying attention to “if the level of concentration drops, if you are very irritable, have negative thoughts, are not motivated, reluctant or are exhausted or deteriorated”. All are alarm signals that must be addressed in order not to reach an extreme threshold.”

*Carolina Martinez Elebi é project coordinator at Via Libre Foundation, a, space for research and defense of fundamental rights in the face of the implementation of new technologies.

Translation: Ricardo Kobayaski

Originally published on the website Argentine time ( https://www.tiempoar.com.ar/nota/el-teletrabajo-apura-el-debate-por-el-derecho-a-la-desconexion )

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