Irish Government Criticised on Proposed Work From Home Legislation
The president of Fórsa, Ireland’s largest public service trade union, has criticised the Irish Government’s approach to legislating for remote or blended work arrangements.
Addressing delegates at the opening of Fórsa’s national conference, Michael Smyth said legislation drafted in January effectively gave employers a ‘right to refuse’ remote work, rather than giving workers a right to request it.
The Irish Government published a draft of its Right to Request Remote Working Bill earlier this year. The draft bill outlined 13 different grounds on which employers can refuse to grant requests to work remotely.
Mr Smyth said the long list of ‘reasons to refuse’ in the draft law revealed a Government “prepared to pander to every employer sensitivity and stereotype, no matter how baseless, falling back on old and outmoded ways of thinking about the relationship between employers and workers.”
He said the Government had failed to lead on the issue despite its publication of the Making Remote Work strategy in early 2021, which includes a commitment that 20% of public service jobs will be worked remotely.
Mr Smyth said Fórsa considers this target “to be a floor rather than a ceiling,” and indicative of where policy can genuinely improve the lives of workers, continue to improve on service delivery, meet climate goals and ensure a more equitable and sustainable rate of development in regions and rural towns.
He said that, in attempting to legislate for remote work, the Government had “simply looked to return to old and outmoded ways of thinking,” instead of “looking forward and harvesting the benefits we now know remote working can deliver.” He described the Government’s efforts as “a spectacular own goal after two years of a revolutionary real-world experience.”
He told delegates that the pandemic had been a powerfully disruptive force in everyone’s lives, and workers found themselves thrust into an “enormous and unplanned experiment in different ways of working,” which he said was a “seismic revolution in the world of work”, changing fundamental assumptions about the workplace, productivity and service delivery.
Mr. Smyth said the Europe-wide shift from a 10-hour working day to an eight-hour working day in 1919 was implemented to ensure there was work available for those returning from the horrors of the battlefields of France and Belgium, and became the recognised, standard working day across the 20th century.
“If we consider the intervention of the Covid pandemic in similar terms, and how remote working briefly eliminated daily commuting and the workplace culture of presenteeism, we might recognise how the very real innovation of effective remote and blended working policies can inform the 21st century.
Speaking at an Enterprise Committee meeting of the Irish Parliament, Dermot Mulligan, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment said the Government’s draft legislation on working from home is currently being revised.