Fórsa is to sit down with civil service management for talks on a ‘blended working’ policy next week. The aim is to agree a long-term framework for managing remote working, which will supersede arrangements put in place during the pandemic.
Once agreement is reached in the civil service, the framework is expected to inform discussions in other public sector organisations. With this in mind, the current talks will aim to agree a framework capable of being rolled-out across the public service, rather than being confined to central Government departments and agencies.
A Government ‘Blended Working Policy Statement, published in July, said the civil service would switch from pandemic-related remote working provisions to long-term blended working arrangements between September 2021 and March 2022.
But last week Fórsa told senior Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) officials that the civil service talks must conclude much sooner to allow discussions to take place in other sectors in time for agreed policies to be in place by next spring. Management has agreed that this is the best approach.
There was some early engagement between the union and civil service management on the implementation of the Government’s blended working policy statement during the summer months, when Fórsa submitted detailed observations on a draft DPER blended working framework.
The comprehensive unwinding of Covid-19 restrictions announced by the Government at the end of last month includes a phased return to workplaces from 20th September. But, speaking to reporters after the launch, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he expected people to embrace ‘blended working’ – a mix of remote work and workplace attendance.
Fórsa said the phased return to workplaces should build on the positive pandemic experience of remote or ‘blended’ working, which had largely sustained or increased productivity throughout the pandemic while bringing wider benefits to employers, workers and society.
The union says the public service should show a lead on remote working, which can bring significant benefits to staff, employers and society while sustaining service quality and productivity across the economy.
“We want to see a consistent approach across the civil and public service, with transparency and fairness over access to remote working. We are also seeking adequate protections on working conditions, privacy and data protection, a right to disconnect, and health and safety including mental health,” it said.
The Government’s Remote Working Strategy, published in January 2021, includes a pledge to establish a legal right to request remote working, introduce a legally admissible code of practice on the right to disconnect, review the treatment of remote working for tax purposes, and make remote working the norm for 20% of public sector staff.