Urgent progress on working from home supports needed

Senator Marie Sherlock
14 January 2021
  • Two months since Labour launched bill to provide for right to disconnect and improved supports for workers.
  • New Year lockdown highlights lack of progress by government.
  • Labour bill would also require employers to provide suitable home workstation and flat rate payment to cover costs now shouldered by workers.

Labour Employment spokesperson Marie Sherlock has highlighted again the lack of action by the government on working from home supports two months since Labour published a bill to provide a legal right to switch off and enhanced supports for employees.

Senator Sherlock said:
“Hundreds of thousands of people are once again working from home due to the third lockdown and the closure of schools. Despite much talk from the government about improving the rights of workers and increasing the supports available, we’ve since little action.

“Whatever belated progress we are likely to see will be forced on the government by the need to implement by 2022 commitments from an EU Directive on flexible working.

“Workers must be adequately provided for when working from home with the right equipment, compensated for their home office costs, and given the right to switch off. The Bill put forward by the Labour Party in November also provided for a legal right to ‘disconnect’ from out of hours communications. Giving workers the right to switch off will stop the blurring of lines between work and home caused by Covid-19. The government allowed that to progress to committee stage but we need to see more urgent progress.

“Our laws are out of date. Workers shouldn’t be shouldering the many costs of working from home. We’re one of the only EU countries without any modern protection in our employment law for remote working, while there are four EU countries now with the specific right to switch off (France, Spain, Italy and Belgium).

“The right to ‘disconnect’ would mean employers have to clearly set out in writing their policy on out of hours communications, and this would provide workers with access to the protections provided under the Organisation of Working Time Act. So the Bill sets out that an employee is entitled not to engage with electronic communications outside of their normal hours of work but, if they choose to do so, this would count as working time and be subject to the Act.

“Alongside the move to more flexible working, there must in parallel be protections for workers and that’s why we want this put in place now. We also need to put adequate provision in place for those working from home. 

“At the start of 2020 about 9% or just over 200,000 people were working from home but this is now much higher.

“Many employers adequately provide for workers at home, but too many don’t, and the situation has changed so rapidly that our laws, protections, and compensation haven’t caught up yet with the reality of pandemic work patterns. The government really needs to move faster now as it’s likely this lockdown could be with us for some time.

“The Labour Bill also requires employers to provide a workstation, chair and IT equipment and then mandates employers to pay a flat rate payment. At present payments in respect of working from home are at the discretion of the employer and we can’t allow that to continue.”

Senator Marie Sherlock carried out a survey last summer of the impact of working from home during the pandemic. Key findings were the lack of suitable workspace at home especially for those renting, the impact on people’s mental health, and the lack of clarity about supports and compensation from employers for the costs of working from home.

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