Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Flexible Work Practices
14. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress on the moves to ensure the option of remote working post-Covid-19; the details of his work with remote working hubs to enable greater flexibility in work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30106/21]
106. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress being made by his Department to ensure that remote working remains a viable option for employees when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29904/21]
As we see light now at the end of the post-pandemic tunnel, we have all learned different ways of working. Will the Tánaiste update the House on progress to secure remote working for the future or the option of partial remote working for employees for the future? What steps have been taken to try to advance remote working hubs around the country? There is a big opportunity in my town of Dún Laoghaire in this regard and I am very interested to hear the Tánaiste's progress on this so far.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 51 and 106 together.
I thank Deputy Carroll MacNeill for raising the important issue of remote working and the move towards a blended working model post pandemic. As I have said previously, I believe the pandemic has changed the world of work forever. Many of us will return to work but videoconferences will be more common and travelling for work much less so. While some people will work full time from the office or from home, many of us will be blended workers, working sometimes from the office and other times from home, or perhaps from a hub or on the go.
The remote working strategy, which I published in January, aims to ensure that remote work is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace of the future in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits. Among the main actions we will take are mandating that home and remote work should be the norm for 20% of public sector employment; reviewing the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next budget; mapping and investing in a network of remote working hubs across Ireland; legislating for the right to request remote working; developing a code of practice for the right to disconnect; and doing what we can to accelerate the provision of high-speed broadband to all parts of Ireland. My Department is leading on the implementation of the strategy.
Members will be aware that on 1 April I signed a the code of practice on the right to disconnect, and that a public consultation on the right to request remote working concluded on 7 May. I am very aware of the importance of infrastructure for the development of remote work. Under this strategy, significant investment will be made in remote work hubs and infrastructure in underserved areas to underpin the development of the national hub network.
The Department of Rural and Community Development, under the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is leading the interdepartmental national hub networking programme, on which my Department is represented. Recently, it launched a €5 million call for funding for connected hubs. Earlier this week, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, launched connectedhubs.ie, which will provide a shared booking platform for hubs throughout the country. It is Ireland's first ever digital hub network and 66 hubs throughout the country are on board and accessible to remote workers via an online map. The number will rise to 100 by the end of 2021 and the overall target is for 400.
I thank the Tánaiste. This is great progress. It is not just about rural communities. In my town of Dún Laoghaire, 140,000 people live within ten minutes of a major urban town in the greater Dublin area, 34% of whom are under 30 and want to be in businesses driven by innovation and knowledge. George's Street, which is the main street, is 1.2 km long and has 264 shopfronts, many of which have been vacant for a very long time. There is an opportunity for the people of Dún Laoghaire to be able to work in jobs that have a city centre presence partially from hubs in Dún Laoghaire, with the support of very good broadband and the creation of these facilities. There is a very strong climate argument to it. Instead of creating large corporate hubs around the periphery of Dublin, we will be able to have facilities whereby people can be closer to home and have less travel and driving. This will involve less creation of new commercial space and the repurposing of existing space. I will be really interested to hear how the Tánaiste thinks we can revitalise our urban centres as well as remote working hubs in the country.
I thank the Deputy. I should add that prior to the return to offices, which I hope will be in September or October, I plan to launch a publicity campaign on remote working. The information campaign will provide information and advice to employers and employees alike. I have a concern we might just drift back to the old normal. We have a window of opportunity to grab and I am determined we should grab it and begin the conversation in the workplace about what things will look like when we work from home, not when we have to but when there is a choice. We really need employers and employees to have this conversation now.
I very much agree with what the Deputy said. We tend to talk about this in the context of rural communities and moving away from the old adage there are no jobs there. This is no longer true. There are 50,000 remote jobs on offer throughout Europe and they can be anywhere, including anywhere in rural Ireland. We also have urban streets that have a lot of vacancy. There is a future for bricks and mortar retail and banks but there will be fewer of them. Just as it is true that those buildings are vacant in rural Ireland, they are also vacant in urban areas and we need to seize the opportunity to repurpose them.
I thank the Tánaiste. Again, I appreciate his response and I go back to the climate imperative on using the structures we have, and there is a big opportunity to do so. The Tánaiste is absolutely right that we will have concrete retail spaces and new businesses, and we already see this coming into Dún Laoghaire and it is very exciting. We still have all of this vacancy and over the shop vacancy. We had the living city initiative in the past and it ran into difficulties with fire exits and additional insurance with regard to treating residential and commercial spaces differently. We have all this space and we are under pressure to revitalise our towns and get people living in them and working there. Everything the Government can do to try to drive the revitalisation of towns, through the living city initiatives, repurposing buildings, looking at the insurance elements and driving hubs back into our towns, also has a strong climate imperative. I thank the Tánaiste for his work on it.
I thank the Deputy. The climate benefits of this are very real. When we look at reducing emissions from transport in our cities, it is interesting to note that moving people from cars to trains and buses unfortunately does not make a huge amount of difference because a 5 km or 10 km journey by car versus a 5 km or 10 km journey by a diesel-powered bus or train does not reduce emissions very much. What really makes a difference is people walking or cycling to work. This is much more possible if they are able to work near their homes. This is why our suburban areas and urban towns and villages can present a real opportunity for people being able to work closer to home if we seize this opportunity.
The vacancy above the shop is very tricky for Ireland because generally the access, unlike in other European cities, tends not to be from a door at the side of the big building but through the shop. It is very hard to turn upstairs into an apartment if it means having to walk through the Spar or the Abrakebabra every time people want to go home. Some things are tricky but they are not impossible.