Government’s Remote Working Strategy Misses the Point

Senator Marie Sherlock
15 January 2021
  • Strategy is just about promoting remote working, lip service paid to worker protections
  • Threadbare detail, strategy is little more than a rehash of 2019 Government report
  • No detail on what a right to request remote work will look like, the 20% mandate on remote working across the public sector and third level institution, and the cost of investing in hubs
  • No legal right to disconnect provided for
  • Review of the costs of working from home put on the long finger to Budget 2022

 

Labour Employment spokesperson Senator Marie Sherlock has responded with disappointment at the Government’s launch of its Remote Working Strategy. This was a real opportunity for Government to show leadership in responding to the issues arising from working from home. Instead it little more than a rehash of the recommendations of the 2019 report.

 

Senator Sherlock said: “Working from home is not new in Ireland, but the pandemic has accelerated this emerging trend . Working from home threw a lifeline to thousands of workers and businesses throughout the pandemic, but it also threw up numerous challenges – many of which were well documented during 2020 and which the Labour Party addressed in our bill in November. Today, the Government decided to engage in more research and defer any real action. Incredibly, they failed to recognise any of the CSO’s vital work on revealing work from home patterns over the past 12 months.

 

“The strategy announced today makes vague commitments to the right to request, but there’s no actual detail. 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 with the specific right to disconnect (France, Spain, Italy and Belgium). There is an EU Work/ Life Balance Directive that must be transposed by Government next year which grants the right to flexible working for parents and carers of children under 8. It’s not clear from the strategy launched today if the Government will go further than that and extend this provision to other workers. We need more detail on this from Government.  

 

“While the announcement of investment in regional hubs is certainly welcome, it isn’t credible without any allocation of funding. The Labour Party has long called for a costed strategy to drive economic growth in the regions by investing in strategic hubs. If the Government is serious about developing a smarter way to work, they will need to pay more than lip service to the regions.

 

“Announcing its strategy, the Government paid little attention to the physical and mental health impact of working from home and made a limp delegation of any action here to the Workplace Relations Commission guidance. Workers must be able to switch off. 

 

 “The real issue here is the supports that workers need when working from home. One effect of the increase in the number of employees who are temporarily working from home has been the blur in the distinction between working time and rest from work. This is why the Labour Party want to introduce a legal right to disconnect which is vital for employees mental health.  Providing this would mean employers must clearly set out in writing their policy on out of hours communications, providing workers with access to the protections provided under the Organisation of Working Time Act. The Labour 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

 

“The Government has failed to take full account of the physical health of workers working from home. We know that Health and Safety legislation is not being implemented in people’s home, and this legislation is largely out of date in many respects. From a survey conducted by the Labour Party last summer, there is evidence that the kitchen table has become the new office and we are calling on the Government to take this issue seriously. Employers should be mandated to make a daily or weekly allowance for costs relating to home working to ensure adequate protections for workers physical health is taken into account.

 

“We also echo the calls of ICTU to ensure that remote workers are not carrying business costs, and support their call for a commitment by Government to review financial supports for remote workers that reflects reality. The national pivot to home working happened overnight last March without proper consideration for the cost implications of this for employees. The Government needs to ensure that ordinary office costs aren’t transferred from the employer to the worker. We can’t have a scenario where employees are picking up the bill for heat, office equipment or IT services. There are tax benefits there for PAYE workers, but these can be very difficult to claim. Small businesses must be supported by Government in this.  

 

“Flexible working is a good thing for the majority of workers. People are spending less time commuting and more time with family and friends. While flexibility is important in the modern workforce, it can’t be at the expense of a person’s work-life balance and their mental health.

 

“Our laws are out of date, and the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the urgent need for reform. The Government’s relaunched strategy won’t change or improve the legal rights for remote workers. Workers need to have their fundamental employment rights protected. The Labour Party Bill seeks to actually modernise our laws to make sure workers are treated fairly and that they have the legal right to switch off from work outside of working hours – things that actually matter to them.”

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