ICTU response to the Irish Times published article on Remote Working and ‘Right to Disconnect’

National Remote Work Strategy protects workers from “always on” culture.
In an article in Monday’s Irish Times under the headline “Government policy on remote working could hurt flexibility and deter investment” Melanie Crowley of Mason Hayes and Curran suggested “the cap on working hours needs to be removed and the right to disconnect needs to be scrapped”.

What is striking about the article is just how conservative, reactionary and outdated the points are! The workplace is constantly evolving and changing. Successful workplaces are one where there is decent work with good collaboration between the employer and employees around issues such as working culture and working conditions. Always on does not mean productive. The pandemic has demonstrated that clearly.

Ms Crowley claimed the Government’s National Remote Work Strategy published recently was “badly askew” in terms of balance and suggested that US multi nationals considering investing here would bolt if they heard about rules and regulations that protect Irish workers. She underestimates many of these multi-national firms.

Not for the first time it is suggested that the rights of workers should be sacrificed the altar of competitiveness. Which in itself is a false premise. Ms Crowley goes on to dismiss the protection and rights afforded to workers under the Working Time Act 1997 derived from a European Directive, and makes the bold claim that it is no longer relevant. Indeed, they remain relevant right across the EU.

This act is a vital legal protection for workers as it limits on the number of hours an employee can work (48 hours per week, on average) and requires employers to record employees’ working time (including rest breaks) irrespective of flexibility, role, title or pay.
From the abolition of slavery to equal pay for women there have always been those who view rights as being expendable. Ms Crowley advocates “an always on” culture so Irish workers can be on call after 6 pm when the company in California is starting the working day, this is to erroneously suggest that the Irish workforce is inflexible. Irish workers and their families are all too familiar with vested interests reminding them of the need for more flexibility and extra hours, but such sermons are normally cloaked in more subtle language than deployed by Ms Crowley. Without even a hint of embarrassment she says we need to “we need to drag the legislation into the 21st century,” presumably so as “always on” bosses can text, email or call any time of the day or night.

We are also urged to emulate the Tory playbook. Ms Crowley says “the British government is now free to do what it wants in relation to whole swathes of employment law when it comes to employment law” because of an opt-out for employees when implementing their working time regulations. Time will tell how the UK do with their new branding global Britain and their go it alone approach. Interestingly all the voices of business in the UK advocated against Brexit
Having endured lectures on the need for economic restraint and sacrifices from the likes of Davy (self-styled experts in “Wealth management”) we are now expected to facilitate a race to the bottom so that Ireland can be more attractive to companies wishing to invest in countries where it is easier and cheaper to exploit labour.

ICTU has been to the fore in highlighting the need for employment protections to keep pace with changes in the way we work, and to close gaps in the law. The ‘right to disconnect’ is a very progressive and flexible workplace tool and generally accepted as such across Europe. It simply provides for less restrictive practices without the worker exploitation. The ‘Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect,’ yet to be published, will set out guidelines and best practice for workers and employers in this regard.

The post pandemic world of work must herald many positive changes. It has created the space and opportunity to make work fairer. In future, flexible work options such as ‘Remote Working’ and Blended Working’ will undoubtedly feature in the suite of flexibility measures in workplaces and should be available to workers.

ICTU was first to call for legislation to oblige employers to give requests for flexible working arrangements serious consideration.

Finally, It might be advisable for Mason, Hayes, Curran and acquaint themselves with the new order developing across the global Labour Market, where the interests of stakeholders trump those of shareholders, where worker contentment and satisfaction signals increased productivity and where worker exploitation and discrimination is regarded as the shameful practice it is. Perhaps these US multi nationals Ms Crowley is meeting would be advised to seek a second opinion! Patricia King
ends

 

IRISH TIMES
Government policy on remote working could hurt flexibility and deter investment
The cap on weekly working hours needs to be removed, and the right to disconnect needs to be scrapped
Mon, Mar 15, 2021, 06:00
Melanie Crowley
Balancing employment rights with international competitiveness is a key task of any government. That balance seems badly askew in the Government’s National Remote Work Strategy published recently.

There are two key cornerstones to the Government’s strategy – the intention to legislate for the right to request remote working and the intention to issue a code of practice around the right to disconnect.

Is it just me or does anyone else see a “disconnect” between flexible and remote working and the right to disconnect? I can’t spend an hour with the kids in the afternoon because I am not allowed to log on again after they have gone to bed. Really?

My point here, especially in the context of the right to disconnect, is not that some of our workforce do not need protection. They absolutely do. The point is that this should not be a one-size-fits-all approach.

In many sectors it is precisely because we have an open English-speaking, common law economy and less restrictive labour laws than many large EU states that we have attracted far more than our share of high-paying jobs, particularly in the service sector.

Many employers competed to offer flexibility long before Covid, and the mutual premise between employer and employee is that more flexibility should mean more productivity.

The Covid pandemic has reinforced this premise. Both employers and employees know that we don’t need to be in the office from 9am until 6pm to be productive. We are capable of doing what needs to be done to get the work done, and we can choose to do that and rearrange our day so we can take exercise at 11am, get groceries at 3pm, put the kids to bed and work from 8pm to 10pm if we wish.

As the head of Ireland’s largest employment law practice, I and my colleagues in Mason, Hayes & Curran regularly find ourselves in front of foreign (mostly American) multinationals considering whether the time has come to start their European journey and, if so, where they might base their operation.

They usually have a couple of countries in mind, and lawyers like us have to explain the benefits and constraints of Ireland’s system. We can talk about English speakers and high standards of education until the cows come home, but in my experience two key issues always resonate: first, the extent and nature of unionisation and, second, what restrictions exist on working practices.

No distinction
Ireland has outdated working-time legislation which makes no distinction between production operators and CEOs. In place since 1997, the Organisation of Working Time Act places limits on the number of hours an employee can work (48 hours per week, on average) and requires employers to record employees’ working time (including rest breaks) irrespective of flexibility, role, title or pay.

The British government had the good sense to include an opt-out for employees when implementing their working-time regulations. We didn’t. It is worth bearing in mind that the British government (our biggest competitors for lots of the work Ireland Inc pitches for) is now free to do what it wants in relation to whole swathes of employment law. We aren’t.

Why then is the Government considering restricting working practices in a broad-brush way which will undermine our competitiveness and limit personal choice?

Has the Government properly considered the impact on our competitiveness? Are we going to say to Californian companies that Irish employees won’t be allowed to take calls from the West Coast after 6pm in the evening, and that Ireland Inc will go dark for much of the American working day?

Our working-time legislation needs a radical overhaul. What worked in 1997 is no longer relevant, and I would suggest that those above a certain income level should be allowed to bargain freely.

The cap on weekly working hours needs to be removed, the obligation to rigidly record every single employee’s working time and rest breaks needs to be removed. Maybe not for all, but certainly for some. We need to drag the legislation into the 21st century where flexibility means managing one’s own working time. As for the right to disconnect – it needs to be scrapped. What we need is flexibility for certain groups to be able to make adult decisions about when they want to and can work. ends

 

Seamus Dooley
Not for the first time it is suggested that the rights of workers should be sacrificed on the altar of competitiveness.
From the abolition of slavery to equal pay for women there have always been those who view rights as being expendable.
Irish workers and their families are all too familiar with vested interests reminding them of the need for restraint but such sermons are normally cloaked in more subtle language than deployed by ……. in her article….
There is much truth in the adage that there’s nothing more eloquent that a vested interest disguised as a point of principle so at one level we should not be surprised at the attempt to represent an attack on fundamental rights as being an appropriate, indeed necessary corrective which should be enforced for the greater good.
Having ensured lectures on the need for economic restrain and sacrifices from Davy (self-styled experts in “Wealth management” ) we are now expected to facilitate a race to the bottom so that Ireland can be more attractive to companies wishing to invest in countries where it is easier and cheaper to exploit labour.

Stronger Workers’ Rights Vital to the Success of Remote Working
15 Jan 2021
Remote Working
Responding to the launch of the National Strategy on Remote Woking, Irish Congress of Trade Unions General Secretary Patricia King said: “It took a pandemic to fully awaken us to the potential for remote working. While the experience has been fraught for some workers, for the vast majority it has been a positive experience and there is now a huge appetite to continue to work remotely after the Covid-19 restrictions end.

“However, unlike workers across the EU, in the UK and Northern Ireland, workers in Ireland have no legal rights to remote working. The employer alone decides the place of work.

“Working from home or remotely from another location close to home, such as a digital hub or co-working space, has many advantages for workers. That is why ICTU was first to call for legislation to oblige employers to give requests for flexible working arrangements serious consideration. Without this requirement, Irish employers have shown themselves to be too quick to refuse out of hand to negotiate company-level agreements on remote working.

“I am pleased our calls have been heard and legislating for the right to request remote working is one of the six actions in the National Strategy” Ms King said.

Social Policy Officer, Dr Laura Bambrick said: “ICTU has been to the fore in highlighting the need for employment protections to keep pace with changes in the ways we work, and gaps in law closed. Workers’ hard-won rights must be preserved when working remotely.”

“Much of the same technology that enables us to work remotely also makes us reachable outside of work hours. The plan to have the Workplace Relations Commission draft legally enforceable regulations on workers’ right to switch off from work-related calls and messages outside of working hours without consequences for not replying is a good starting point to tackle the always-on work culture” she said.

Dr Bambrick added: “ICTU has led the way in highlighting how the current methods for reimbursing expenses are not fit for purpose. Remote workers should not have to carry the business costs – whether in the form of higher utility bills or the daily desk charge at a hub. The commitment to undertake a review of the available financial supports for remote workers acknowledges the need for them to more accurately reflect reality.”

Ms King said: “A right to remote working and stronger protections for remote workers are key to a smooth transition in the seismic shift in the ways we work. The National Strategy is recognition of this. ICTU will continue our work towards ensuring a full and proper implementation of the commitments given today.”

ENDS