Remote working legislation needs to reflect reality of experience to date

20 August 2021

Labour enterprise spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has welcomed the public consultation on the right to request remote working published today but said the Tánaiste cannot delay any longer in publishing detailed legislation to protect workers opting to work remotely. Ó Ríordáin said there is now an opportunity to go the full way for workers and enshrine all components of Labour’s Working from Home (Covid-19) Bill to provide protection to everyone choosing to work from home.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“Remote working is not new in Ireland, but the pandemic has accelerated this emerging trend. Working from home threw a lifeline to thousands of businesses and workers 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 last November.

“It’s welcome to see the huge public engagement on this topic and the responses published today make it clear that remote working is here to stay. The overnight shift to home working has offered freedom and flexibility, delivering better work life balance for people. While this consultation shows some disparity between employees and businesses on certain components of the detail, it is now for the Tánaiste to find a pathway forward rooted in mutual trust and respect.

“For example, it seems bizarre that the length of time a person is in employment should be a factor in whether they are offered remote working or not. Including such a provision would fly in the face of the lived experience of the past year. Throughout the pandemic, businesses continued to hire, with many workers starting their first day of work online. The quick pivot to remote working has proven just how flexible both employees and employers can be. No arbitrary length of time should be included in this legislation.

“As clearly noted in the public consultation, we also need to set out the obligations of businesses when it comes to protecting employees working at home. This is a key component of Labour’s Bill. Employers must ensure that workers are fully equipped to work remotely by providing suitable home working stations and flat rate payments to cover the costs of remote working that are currently being shouldered by workers. This is really important for younger workers and those starting out their careers who have reported working in challenging conditions – particularly those in rented accommodation where we hear stories of three, four, five housemates working on the same kitchen table.

“The move to flexible working must be supported with clear protections for workers and we want to see this implemented urgently. Establishing a right to remote working must be accompanied with a right to switch off. While the Tánaiste established a Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect in April, this does not equate with a legal right of same. It is just guidance that will not address the exploitation experienced by many workers in the ‘always on’ culture of many workplaces. There are four EU countries now with the specific right to switch off – France, Spain, Italy and Belgium. The pandemic has shown the urgent need for us to update our employment laws to ensure that a clear divide between work and home is set in legislation.

“This consultation is a step in the right direction for businesses and workers alike. Flexible working is a good thing for the majority of people – we’re spending less time commuting and more time with family and friends. Many employees will now rightly have an expectation of working remotely from the commencement of employment, businesses must have internal practices in place to facilitate this. Ultimately, remote working cannot be at the expense of a person’s work-life balance and their mental health, and the legislation on remote working needs to implement key areas of Labour’s legislation in this regard. Workers need to have their fundamental employment rights protected.”

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