Work Life Balance Bill fails to catch up to new realities of work

Senator Marie Sherlock
20 April 2022
  • Shortsighted and wasteful that Govt are choosing to legislate for remote work and flexible work separate to each other
  • Bill will fall far short of key worker demand for flexible work arrangements for all workers
  • Working parents need for flexible work arrangements will not suddenly end when child is 12 years of age
  • Key test for bill will be the wait period to access flexible work arrangements – if not available from day one of employment then it will lock out lone parents and others seeking to re-enter workforce
  • Missed opportunity for disabled persons to be included in the right to access flexible work arrangements

Labour employment spokesperson Marie Sherlock has said government’s Work Life Balance Bill has major gaps and fails to address the demands of workers.

Senator Sherlock said:

“Unfortunately, it appears that the Government’s much heralded Work Life Balance Bill will fall far short of meeting the very clear demand for a greater work life balance in this country. It neither addresses the gaps in current employment law nor paves the way for the new way of work brought around by the pandemic.

“While the extension of breastfeeding break entitlements is very much to be welcomed and an issue the Labour party has campaigned on for a number of year, it appears that a major flaw in the bill is the failure to adequately address flexible work.

“Flexibility in terms of hours of work and place of work is a key demand of workers. Flexible work should not just be something granted for those with caring responsibilities and, as many parents point out, the need for flexibility does not stop when a child turns 12.

“The reality is that flexible working arrangements breathed life into our labour market during the pandemic and provided the opportunity for many people to enter employment who previously felt locked out.

“A right to flexible work can, and already has, make work more equal in this country. With female full-time employment rising by an impressive 7.5% in a two-year period between the end of 2019 and 2021, we know that something has happened during the pandemic. 81% of women surveyed on behalf of the Labour Party want flexible work to be the default and not the exception.

“We have seen communities throughout the country thrive during the pandemic, with many young people opting to leave the cities and return home. As well as improving their quality of life, this contribution to local economies has been clearly felt. At a time when government remains disinterested in resolving the extortionate cost of renting in our cities, Labour are demanding that government do not turn the clock back in terms of work in Ireland.

“Ultimately the key test of the Bill will be the period workers are forced to wait before they can seek flexible working arrangements. Ireland has highest share of jobless lone parents across the EU, and a key issue for them to re-enter workforce is flexibility. Government are determined to see flexibility as a perk earned after a number of months. This is an archaic way of seeing work in 2022.

“There is a certain irony that at a time where Government is seeking views on their reasonable accommodation fund grants for disabled persons that there appears to be no inclusion for flexible work arrangements for disabled persons in this Bill. Again, Ireland has one of the highest share of jobless disabled persons and we know there is a very real demand for flexible work arrangements to keep them in their jobs or help them enter the workforce.

“Lastly, while the introduction of caring leave for parents is welcome, the fact that it is unpaid renders it meaningless to the very many workers who simply cannot afford to be out of pocket. This must only be seen as a stepping stone to paid leave. Otherwise, many workers will be locked out of this workplace right.”

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