Thursday, 19 January 2023
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Flexible Work Practices
109. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the steps that are being taken to implement the right to work from home in the Civil Service; the systems that are in place to ensure there is no resultant diminution of the output of the Civil Service; the way the impact on civil servants and the output of the Civil Service is being monitored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2614/23]
What steps are being taken to implement the right to work from home in the Civil Service? What systems are in place to ensure there is no resultant diminution in the output of the Civil Service? What systems are in place to monitor the impact of the right to work from home on civil servants individually and collectively, but also on the output of the Civil Service?
The Deputy will be aware that the programme for Government contains a commitment to mandating public sector employers to move to 20% home and remote working. In this context, my Department, in collaboration with Civil Service employers, trade unions and staff associations, developed a blended working policy framework for Civil Service organisations which was published in March. The framework focused on the longer term approach to remote working in the Civil Service and has been shared with public service employers with a view to providing a consistent approach across the wider public service. This is a key step taken by my Department in this important area to support the long-term implementation of blended working options for civil servants.
The framework provides broad strategic direction to individual Departments and offices in the Civil Service to develop tailored policies on blended working that are appropriate to their business needs. In developing their own blended working policies Civil Service Departments and offices have the flexibility to determine matters such as the roles that are suitable for blended working and the proportion of time individual employees work remotely compared with on site. Remote working will not be available to employees on a 100% basis as some physical attendance at workplaces will be required to facilitate face-to-face meetings, training and other key events deemed necessary by the employer.
It seems from the Minister's response that there is a certain degree of anad hoc response. Inevitably, a certain discretion has to be allowed to every employer, Department and section within Departments right across the Civil Service and, indeed, the public service. On the other hand, the right to work from home poses a significant challenge to management in the Civil Service in particular. Obviously, it is important to ensure there is no diminution of service to the public as well as making sure the workforce is facilitated in working from home where possible. That will require management systems, however. I could be wrong but I do not think management is an Irish forte, particularly in the civil and public service, or, at least, if it is, we have failed to demonstrate it of late. This is not just an issue raised by the Opposition; it has also been recognised by those on the Government back benches. There is a perception that it is now much more difficult to get through to public services and the Civil Service on the telephone, for example.
That is not blaming individual civil servants, but if what is perceived is the reality, management systems have to be put in place to ensure it is not.
I would not describe the arrangement that is in place as being in any way ad hocbut would describe it as varied. It is the case that, within our public service, we have so many roles available, as the Deputy will know better than I do. We are trying to have a framework in place that allows a minimum amount of discretion to work from home but also guarantees that public services are maintained while working arrangements change.
I am aware of some of the feedback on the quality of public services and the ability to gain access to public servants. The Government will introduce a public service and public sector reform strategy. As part of that, it will address the issue of how we can maintain a service for citizens at a time when work practices are changing.
To go back to my original question, what systems are in place to monitor the output? I have given a certain amount of feedback, as have other Deputies, but it is inevitably anecdotal. I accept it is difficult to monitor the output of the Civil Service, including sections and Departments, but it is crucial that it be monitored nevertheless. It is also crucial to monitor and get feedback on the impact, be it positive or negative, on individual civil servants in addition to the Civil Service collectively from a workforce point of view. I would expect it to be positive but do not know. Is there a system in place to monitor the output, the length of telephone calls, the proportion of telephone calls and emails being answered and the time in which they are being answered, not just at switchboard level but substantively, since the move to remote working? Is there any change in the output?
That information exists. It is captured for organisations such as the Revenue Commissioners when they examine how they respond to communications. I do not have the detail on the various parts of our civil and public services.
To deal with the Deputy's question on the framework in place, it is, as I referred to in the early part of my answer, the Blended Working Policy Framework for Civil Service Organisations. Appendix B of that framework, which concerns the role of the people manager, lays out expectations regarding how blended working can be delivered while also ensuring those individuals who change their work practices adhere to the expectations in place. A matter I will consider in the time ahead is how we can better capture and measure the output of our public services when work practices are changing all over the country, including in our public services.