What will be the future of telework in the tax administrations?

The reason why I decided to share these ideas is to try to analyze what will happen with telework in the Tax Administrations (TAs)[1]  following the conclusion of the restrictions. That is, assessing its potential.

I believe that when it comes to evaluating the possible continuation of telework, the following aspects, among others, should be analyzed:

 

1. Legal regulation of Telework: rights and obligations of the parties.

Undoubtedly this is also a key issue; this includes the analysis of the legislation in force in each country in relation to teleworking.

According to a recent document of the IDB [2] in Latin America and the Caribbean, some countries such as Colombia[3] have a more advanced legislation.  In some countries, telework is regulated as “distance work”, such as in Chile. In others, like Mexico, it is regulated as a modality of “home-based work”, characterized with using ICTs, while in Colombia and Peru the legislation makes express reference to the term telework.

With respect to Europe, in July 2002 the European Framework Agreement on telework was signed in Brussels and various countries have advanced in their legislation.

The referred IDB document establishes some requisites that must be considered when regulating telework, such:

  • Written contract which includes the rights and obligations

  • Equal treatment since the teleworkers must be entitled to the same rights and benefits as the face-to-face workers, such as social security and parity of remuneration.

  • Wilfulness and reversibility or, that is, that the face-to-face workers that become teleworkers have the right to revert said situation and go back to the face-to-face activity.

  • Equipment and associated expenses should be provided by the employers, although the parties may agree that the teleworker use his own equipment, for which he should be given a compensation for the costs.

  • Security and health of the teleworkers is a responsibility of the employer.

  • Work shift may be subject to different approaches, such as excluding telework from the limitation of the work shift up to organizing the work schedule within certain limits.

  • Telework modalities may be permanent when telework is carried out throughout the shift, or partial, when telework is combined with face-to-face work.

  • Classification as subordinate work or autonomous work.

 

2. Productivity and telework.

Specifically, this deals with determining whether carrying out the task through telework implies a greater or lesser productivity for the TA in question.

Any analysis made during the current confinement period must be separated from different factors which should not be considered following the conclusion of the pandemic since, for example, the work is being carried out with children and the entire family at home.

Some opinions suggest that control is not the way to increase the productivity of the individuals and this is being shown in the daily practice. Likewise, it is said that a larger number of hours is worked than when the work is done in the face-to-face[4] modality.

An issue of increasing concern in teleworkers is the hyper-connectivity and its negative effect on the harmonization between the family and labor life. Some European countries have already formulated legislation on the issue[5]; however, in Latin America and the Caribbean, there has been little progress in this respect.

Several reports, among them, that of ILO – Eurofund [6] highlight as advantage for the workers as well as the enterprises, the increase in productivity and point out studies carried out in different countries.

I believe there is much to be analyzed in relation to this matter and most certainly it will demand very detailed studies applicable to TAs, with respect not only to productivity, but likewise the managerial control of any task or process to be carried out through telework.

 

3. Level of digitalization of the TA and the country in general. Human and Material Resources.

This implies an analysis of the human and material resources available for teleworking.

The level of digitalization of the functions, processes, and tasks of the TA, as well as of the country in question, need to be verified.

It will be necessary to analyze whether, for example, the procedures or tasks may be presented in digital form and worked by means of digital files, with digital signatures and notified through electronic tax domiciles.

Another key issue is the diagnosis of the TA’s human resources, especially determining whether the staff is not familiarized with digitalization, in which case there will be a need for the corresponding training and development actions.

Leading remote teams is a complex task, totally different from doing so on a face-to-face basis. Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate whether there are profiles of teleworkers capable of adapting themselves, with full knowledge of the modality and the opportunities it generates.

The country’s level of digitalization is very important. That is, how advanced it is in the issue of electronic government, as well as the essential technical requirements such as connectivity to internet, equipment, and ICTs available in the homes.

In the aforementioned ILO – Eurofund [7] report, it is said that the incidence of telework is related not only to the technological developments in different countries, but also to the existing economic structures and working cultures.

Finally, it is vital to analyze how computerized and familiarized with the digital world the taxpayers are, in order to electronically communicate themselves with the TAs, as well as considering the level of informality, inasmuch as it evidently renders difficult the digitalization processes.

 

4. Security and Confidentiality of the information.

Currently TA involves administering information[8], and therefore the security and confidentiality of the information available in the TAs is an extremely critical issue that constitutes the fundamental pillar of the tax systems, and for which reason there must be the assurance that said information will not be disclosed in an undue manner.

This issue is legislated in all the countries. If TA officials disclose or disseminate information about any taxpayer obtained in carrying out their functions, it is classified and considered an offense[9].

Telework outside the Tax Administration offices poses new and important challenges. Therefore, it is essential to apply the same procedures, processes, and control as in the case of face-to- face work and that the pertinent changes be made, as appropriate, to cover all the risks.[10]

For example, it is necessary to review the policy regarding remote accesses, registration and control of accesses, authentication systems, use of public networks, digital signatures, as well as auditing and controls to be carried out for guaranteeing the confidentiality and security of the information[11].

An important aspect to be considered is, whether in order to do the telework the officials must transfer to their homes files or paper documents that are in the offices, with the subsequent risks involved, such as thefts, deterioration or loss of documents.

Finally, by way of conclusion, I believe we are experiencing a historical moment in this respect and undoubtedly, there will be a before and after in the issue of digitalization of the Tax Administrations.

Whether telework will continue in the Tax Administrations, I do not think there is a simple answer, nor can it be standard for all TAs or all their tasks and processes and much less all their workers and/or taxpayer segments.

Everything seems to suggest that telework is here to stay in our TAs, by combining it in many cases with face-to-face tasks.

Every TA that decides to continue with telework must analyze the aspects I have mentioned and certainly, there may be more aspects to evaluate which I may have omitted, therefore I invite you to give your opinion in this respect.


[1] The digitalization of the Tax Administrations: An analysis of teleworking within the scenario of coronavirus forced restrictions. CIAT Blog 21/04/2020. In this blog, I commented on the advantages and disadvantages of teleworking and the difficulties and inconveniences of workers and taxpayers due to the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus
[2] “The future of work in Latin America and the Caribbean: how to guarantee workers’ rights in the digital era? From IDB https://publications.iadb.org/es/el-futuro-del-trabajo-en-america-latina-y-el-caribe-como-garantizar-los-derechos-de-los-0
[3] For more information, see https://www.teletrabajo.gov.co/622/w3-channel.html
[4] Quarantine debunks a myth: teleworking showed that control does not increase productivity. https://www.iproup.com/innovacion/13210-teletrabajo-mostro-que-el-control-no-incrementa-la-productividad
[5]  France and Spain were pioneers in creating legislation on digital disconnection (Law N° 2016-1088 and the 2018 Law on the Protection of Data and Guarantee of Digital Rights, respectively).
[6] OIT Eurofund – Working at any time and in any place: consequences in the working sphere. 2019. The report synthesizes the research carried out by the network of European correspondents of Eurofund in ten member States of the EU –Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Holland, Spain, Sweden and Great Britain– and ILO consultants Argentina, Brazil, India, Japan and the United States.
[7]
Idem note 6
[8] The Tax Administrations and Information Systems for improving control. Some Iines on the subject. CIAT Blog 29/7/2019.
[9] For example, article 114 of the CIAT Model Tax Code provides that the confidentiality of the equity data of the individuals is guaranteed through provisions included in the Code which provides for secrecy of the information entering the TA and a penalties system for the officials and entities using it for purposes other than the collection ad examination of the taxes.
[10] To expand this topic, we recommend that you review the recent book: ICT as a Strategic Tool to Leapfrog the Efficiency of Tax Administrations/ 2020 which deals with various aspects of security of the information.
[11] By way of example, the telework legislation in Colombia provides different recommendations on cybersecurity. https://www.teletrabajo.gov.co/622/w3-article-126328.html

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