A real opportunity now exists to make remote and blended working a much bigger part of normal working life, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, has said.
He was speaking at the publication of a report containing the views of the public and stakeholder groups on proposed new legislation on the right to request remote work.
“Introducing a right to request remote working will set out a clear framework to facilitate remote and blended work options, in so far as possible,” he said.
“It will ensure that when an employer declines a request, there are stated reasons for doing so and conversations with workers are taking place in a structured way.”
A total of 175 submissions were received as part of a consultation process, most of which came from individual workers.
The areas covered by the report include: who should pay the costs of remote working; how much notice each side should have to give; and what arrangements should be put in place to cover health and safety issues associated with working remotely.
The report shows that “both workers and employers see remote and hybrid working as key to the future of work”, said Sinn Féin deputy Louise O’Reilly, the party’s spokeswoman on Enterprise, Trade, Employment and Workers’ Rights.
Sinn Féin would work with the Tánaiste to progress and implement positive legislation around the right to request remote working, and would also seek to strengthen any legislation where it feels it falls short, she said.
‘One size does not fit all’
Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the small and medium-sized businesses representative group Isme, said the content of the report was “reasonably predictable”.
“There are objective areas of concern for employers about remote maintenance of health and safety, and of the provision of two work spaces, one in an office and one at home,” he said.
This will drive procurement issues such as a need to move from desktop PCs to laptops where there is a migration of workers from office to home.
It was important, he said, to remember that one size does not fit all and that working from home was very amenable to certain professional and service activities deliverable at a remove from the client or customer.
“However, many other services, hospitality, manufacturing, and construction businesses will have limited scope to accommodate working from home,” he said.
Consultation reports such as the one just published rarely had much input into legislation, said Laura Bambrick, head of social policy and employment affairs with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu).
She was surprised the report was published with “such fanfare”. It should have been published with a health warning pointing out that it contained the views of a “small and unrepresentative sample”, with the views of individuals being given the same weight as representative groups such as the Ictu, she said.
The fact was that the Republic was an outlier in terms of workers’ right to request remote working, she said. The key issue now would be what arises out of an interdepartmental review of the international evidence.
“Given that other countries have been doing it for a long time, we can see what works and what doesn’t,” she said.
This evidence would provide guidance on such matters as who should pay for equipment and additional costs associated with working remotely, she said.
The most important issue was that an “operational reason” must be given for any request that is refused, and that employees can go to the Workplace Relations Commission if they wish to challenge a refusal.
“Really we are just catching up with our more enlightened peers,” she said.