Wednesday, 15 September 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
49. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the measures he will take to ensure the maximum possible engagement with workers and their representatives in the process of the return to work with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43779/21]
I ask the Tánaiste what measures he will take to ensure the maximum possible engagement with workers and their representatives in the process of the return to work; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I thank the Deputy for the question. On 31 August 2021, the Government published Reframing the Challenge: Continuing our Recovery and Reconnecting, containing updated guidance to take effect from 20 September 2021, as part of a gradual and careful reopening process in advance of the further planned relaxation of restrictions on 22 October.
A sub-group of the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, which is the forum for high-level dialogue between Government, trade union and employer representatives on matters related to the labour force, has also published an additionalguidance note on the gov.iewebsite on returning safely to the workplace from 20 September to assist businesses and employees.
The successful roll-out of the vaccination programme has allowed the advice on the need to work from home to be revised from 20 September. As a result, an update of the work safely protocol with some minor changes is being finalised and will be published in the coming days. All employers and business managers who are considering a phased and staggered return to the workplace over coming weeks should familiarise themselves with the updated protocol. As workers return to workplaces, the role of the lead worker representative is particularly important, and this is emphasised in both the protocol and in the new LEEF guidance note published last week. All workers, regardless of the sector of the economy in which they work, are covered by the provisions of the work safely protocol and I can assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to continue to work closely with employers and trade unions to ensure appropriate guidance is in place for this next phase of reopening.
The Deputy has asked about good communication. I wish to emphasise that since Covid has hit these shores, we have been very lucky to have good engagement through LEEF and with the employee representative bodies through the unions and employers. We have been able to bring forward the work safety protocol and update it on numerous occasions. Most businesses have found it to be an extremely useful guide, as have their employees. Hopefully, that engagement can continue in the next few days as we move on to the next phase.
On the issue of health and safety and maximum consultation, the Government decided to implement 100% capacity on public transport at short notice the week that schools went back. No opinion was sought from NPHET. There was no consultation with public transport workers who, by the way, played a key role in guiding society through the pandemic.
However, the workers rejected the Government's instruction. They decided to keep capacity of 75%. In practice, they are allowing seats to be occupied and implementing a no-standing policy.
The way the Government handled this was an example of how things should not be done. The way the public transport workers handled it was an example of how things should be done. If there is consultation on health and safety, that is fine. If there is agreement on health and safety, that is good. If there is no agreement, then the workers must have the decisive say. As we approach 20 September, their example is one for the country as a whole. I ask for the Minister of State's comments on this.
Again, I thank the Deputy for raising the question. He had not flagged any particular area in his question but I am happy to take on board his advice, guidance and suggestions. They will be passed on.
When any advice is updated on movement restrictions, the work safety protocol in place at the time is the one to be followed. The new version that will be published in the next couple of days will be about the sixth or seventh version. Workers going back to work at that stage will follow that protocol. The protocol has been very successful. In this regard, there have been over 42,500 inspections by our agencies. There has been an adherence rate of over 90% at all times. If the Deputy has any suggestions on the protocol, I will be happy to take them on board over the next couple of days.
While workers will be back to work on 20 September, the teachers went back to work three weeks ago. The employer, the State, did not set a very good example in this regard either. Best practice ordains that every classroom should have a filter and a carbon dioxide monitor. Proper mitigation measures, according to Professor Orla Hegarty, would cost €10 per child. They were not put in place, however. How does the Minister of State explain that to teachers? Will he comment on that?
I listened with interest to the Tánaiste when he said he is a fan of remote working. I note that some tech giants based in the United States but with operations in this country are cutting the pay of workers in the United States who choose to work at home in areas where the cost of living is less than in the area where their office is based. Will the Minister of State join me in making an explicit call to state that under no circumstances should this policy be pursued by the tech giants here in this country?
On the matter of people going back to work in schools, they have been at work in schools since last autumn and have been teaching consistently throughout the period. They went back to school under the various protocols. The return to work safety protocol is the standard across all sectors. Naturally, each area — schools are a prime example — go further than that. Schools do so under the direction of the Department of Education. That is what has happened. We have had quite a good success story over the past 12 months in regard to in-school teaching. It has been quite positive.
On advice for employers in this country, we have strong employment laws and protections for all workers. That is advice we work to. Any employer here has to work according to our rules and regulations. I cannot comment on what happens in other countries. I doubt that the Deputy wants me to interfere with their laws. We can work on our own here.
The question was whether the Minister of State will join me in making a call to the companies to say that under no circumstances should pay cuts of the kind in question be implemented here. I would appreciate an answer to that.
To be very clear, we have had great engagement with all employers on the wage levels set in this country. The majority of employers go well above what is required. We have protections in place in regard to employee pay and conditions, and we have rules and regulations that have to be enforced. I cannot comment on any-----