Development of Contemporary Means of Communication and Their Efficiency of Use in Labour Relations

AuthorGaabriel Tavits
PositionDocent of Labour and Social Welfare Law, University of Tartu

Gaabriel Tavits

Docent of Labour and Social Welfare Law, University of Tartu

Development of Contemporary Means of Communication and Their Efficiency of Use in Labour Relations

The development of means of communications, in general, has created a situation where interpersonal communication has become easier and faster. E-mails, different messengers, mobile phones and other such means are used more and more often in everyday communication.

With such a development there is no call to send different bureaucratic documents by regular mail any more. It is now sufficient if the necessary documents are only sent electronically or with a digital signature.

The development of means of communication and the consequent changes in interpersonal relations also effect changes in labour relations. Labour relations have become more flexible. Employees can decide on their actual working time; working at home is also made possible through the use of contemporary means of communication.

Modern society is significantly influenced by the development of different means of communication and their new areas of use. Therefore, developments over the last decade have significantly changed people's needs for, and the possibilities of, communication. Interpersonal relations have become faster and more versatile. There are more and more colleagues who are known only by a messenger emotion sign or a nickname, or as a small green icon in the lower right hand corner of the computer screen.

Sending necessary documents by different electronic means of communication has taken international and intercontinental communication to such a level that making decisions is now only a question of a matter of minutes or seconds.

All such developments in interpersonal communication are a challenge to the legal regulation of interpersonal relations, especially because the communication environment itself has changed significantly. This development also concerns labour relations and the legal regulation thereof. Although the legal regulation of labour relations is essentially a product of the 19 th century industrial revolution, real life has now forced some corrections to be made. For example, people's understanding of what an employment contract relationship is, needs to be significantly corrected -- is it still a master and a subordinate relationship or can parties agree on flexible work conditions?

The development of communication also significantly influences understanding of employees' representation in companies and the rights of the employees' representatives to use the employer's electronic means of communication for their representative duties.

Although this topic has enjoyed much attention in literature 1 , in the Estonian legal order, the influence of modern means of communication on labour relations has not been paid sufficient attention. This article studies general changes in labour relations with regard to the development of means of communication, and analyses the possibilities in that development and influence on collective employment relationships in the Estonian legal context.

1. Typical and atypical labour relations
1.1. Individual employment relationships

Modern means of communication influence the development of labour relations. Labour relations in general become more flexible. This means that an employee no longer needs to perform work on company premises, there are also possibilities outside2. This in turn makes the so-called traditional "Ford production process type employment relationship" history. If today we still have people who are used to personal communication or land line phones, then the younger generation prefers to use mobile phones and Internet communication sites3. Since the exchange of communication has become faster, then the employee, as well as the employer, must be able to work through an increased amount of information. It is thus possible to argue that economic development in general, as well as the development of means of communication, has created something we can call atypical labour relations.

What is a typical labour relation? Typical labour relations are mostly considered to be labour relations with the following attributes: (a) an employee is employed full-time (b) on the basis of an employment contract concluded for an unspecified amount of time; (c) the employee's position is stable; (d) he or she need not worry about his or her social protection after the end of the labour relation; and (e) there is a clear subordination relationship with regard to orders given by the employer about the content, the location as well as the manner of the work performed4.

Such traditional labour relations are starting to retreat and the so-called project-based jobs are becoming more frequent; instead of stable labour relations we find more temporary jobs. Neither is an employee subordinated to the employer's will any longer, with some forms of work such control is no longer even possible (e.g., employees who are teleworking and working mostly from home). Similarly, in the case of part-time jobs, such organisation of work time gives employees a chance to better combine their work and family life and thus flexibly decide on how they do their job.

Atypical labour relations are usually such labour relations where an employee needs not work at the location and in the manner designated by the employer. This in turn means that the traditional dependency relations, as we know them from the 19 th century, no longer work, and new labour protection regulations are needed. Such atypical labour relations are emerging mostly because the available means of communication facilitate interpersonal relations and also job-related communications. Employees can thus perform their jobs by using different forms of teleworking. Different mobile options and electronic communication channels enable an employee to work from another country or continent and still be available to colleagues and the employer.

Thus, new types of subordination relations appear as well as a new understanding of job organisation options. One such flexible job possibility is set forth in the Estonian Working and Rest Time Act, which attempts to define a person with independent decision-making powers, who is not subordinated to employer's orders and has the right to decide when to perform his or her duties5. The definition in § 1 (3) 1) of the Working and Rest Time Act is not the best possible, as it does not provide clearly to what extent and under which conditions employees can determine their working time.

Flexible jobs are most used in the tertiary sector where development of such labour relations is inevitable. It is nevertheless understandable that flexible jobs do not have a place in the processing industry, since line workers cannot realistically demand flexible organisation of work, it is simply not plausible and cannot be accomplished.

Such flexible jobs or atypical labour relations also bring new aspects to collective employment relationships, which have thus far not been known or demanded.

1.2. Collective employment relationships

All of the above-described also concerns collective employment relationships. One of the main aims of collective employment relationships is to develop social dialogue between the employees and the employer on the company level. Social dialogue has only one aim -- to achieve as flexible as possible work conditions, which on the one hand considers the employer's as well as the contractor's interests and on the other hand offers sufficient protection to employees. The development of modern means of communication poses several new questions to the parties of collective employment relationships, which thus far have been irrelevant. Suddenly the problem of how to organise collective negotiations in a company where 70% of employees are teleworkers or how to solve collective labour disputes in a so-called virtual company have become important. Problems of how to inform and consult employees arise also in traditional (non-virtual) companies, since the current regulation does not, as a rule, provide how the informing and consulting be carried out -- should it be done orally or in writing, if it is done in writing, then do the internal...

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