Wednesday, 15 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
56. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when the heads of the right to flexible working Bill will be published; the legal protections currently in place to support workers who are asked to return to the workplace but who would prefer to remain working remotely; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43749/21]
I know the Tánaiste has referred to this in a previous answer but I ask him when the right to flexible working Bill will be published; the legal protections that are currently in place to support workers who are asked to return to the workplace but who would prefer to remain working remotely; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The right to request remote working is part of a broader Government vision to make remote working a permanent feature of Ireland's workforce in a way that can be to the benefit of everyone - economically, socially and environmentally. The commitment to introduce legislation to underpin an employee's right to request remote work was made in the national remote work strategy published last January.
The Covid pandemic has certainly brought remote working centre stage and work on this important legislation is well advanced.
The Bill will set out a clear framework to facilitate remote and blended work options insofar as possible. It will also ensure that when an employer declines a request, there are stated reasons for doing so. Remote working will not work for everyone, so we will need to take a balanced approach with the legislation. However, the overriding principle should be to facilitate workers' choices, provided that services are delivered and the work is done.
On 20 August, I published the views of members of the public and stakeholder groups on the legislation. The summary report of the 175 submissions is available on my Department's website. Informed by the public consultation and a review of international best practice, the drafting of the general scheme of the Bill has commenced and I will seek Cabinet approval for the drafting of the heads of the Bill in the next few weeks. The Bill will be progressed through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible thereafter. The intention is to introduce a mechanism for employees to request remote working that is fair but does not place an undue burden on employers. In the meantime, we will also continue to provide up-to-date advice, guidance and information on all aspects of remote working for workers and employers.
On 28 June, I launched my Department’s Making Remote Work campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the advice and information available from the Government to help workers and employers facilitate more remote and blended working. This includes guidance for employers and workers and a remote working checklist, which are available on my Department’s website.
Within the legislation, is it envisaged there will be a right for workers to switch off? If a person is working remotely, there can be a sense of soft pressure for him or her to remain constantly on, with emails and communications from the employer.
I can appreciate this may very well suit the lifestyle of somebody in settled domestic circumstances, with a spare room, an office or whatever, but for a younger worker who may not have that facility, can we within the legislation ensure there will be a responsibility on employers to care for younger workers in particular, who may have only their own bedroom to work from? Will employers be required to provide a certain standard of work station within the space? As the Tánaiste will appreciate, it can be difficult for younger workers to make such demands when they are just starting off in the workplace.
The legislation is still in development, so we do not even have the heads at this stage. There are many aspects that might end up in it and I am certainly open to suggestions. As for the right to switch off or disconnect, we dealt with that through a code of practice, which was published a few months ago. It is not a statutory code of practice but it is admissible in evidence where somebody takes a complaint in respect of the Organisation of Working Time Act, for example. After consideration, we just did not think it was the kind of measure we could include in primary legislation. Workplaces vary so much. Some are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while others follow the clock. We just did not think that could be legislated for in primary legislation, so we have done it through the code of practice giving people the right to disconnect. While that is not statutory, if people have had their working times protections breached, they can use it and it is admissible in proceedings.
In the case of younger workers, or any workers who might be in crowded accommodation such as a one-bedroom apartment or a studio, it is not envisaged that the employer would be required to provide a workspace in their private home. The idea is that if somebody wants to work remotely, he or she will provide that, although obviously it will have to be a certain standard. These are issues we will have to think through, I imagine.
I appreciate that the legislation is still being drafted and the Tánaiste is still welcoming submissions but I would impress on him the importance of the younger, more vulnerable worker. As I said, there may be soft pressure on younger workers to work from home. If people are 20, 21 or 22 years of age and starting off in the workforce, they would not necessarily have that type of space, if they still live in the family home, to allow them to be as productive as they might like to be, and they might not have the self-confidence to make the case for the company or employer to provide basic provisions to allow for effective working from home. Within the legislation, therefore, the Tánaiste might consider the reality of that younger person, or that person starting off in the workforce, who does not yet have the capability to move out of the family home but needs some basic provision of support from the employer in order that he or she can be effective. It is a reasonable suggestion and it would be relevant to the legislation.
The Deputy raises an important issue and it is something to which I will have to give some thought with my officials. There are different scenarios. Somebody who applies for a job in an office and gets it might then request the option of working from home one or two days a week. In that case, the employee is making the request and there is more of an obligation on him or her to provide the space from which he or she is going to work. Increasingly, however, jobs are being advertised as remote. About 50,000 jobs across Europe are now being advertised as remote and the employees can work from almost anywhere. In that scenario, there is probably more of an obligation on the employer. If it is not providing a workplace and is saying the employee has to work from his or her own home, I think the obligation on the employer is a bit different.
I thank the Deputy for raising the issue because it has not really entered our deliberations thus far. I am grateful to him for bringing it up.