Fórsa has today (Saturday) advised its branches and officials to make contact with employers to ensure workers are protected following yesterday evening’s welcome announcement of a substantial easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
Many of the changes announced – including a green light for a phased return to workplaces and an end to social distancing – will impact on workers and workplace safety measures.
Fórsa met with senior Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) officials yesterday in anticipation of the relaxation. The union sought and received assurances that public service employers would be expected to consult with lead worker safety representatives and union reps on issues arising from the changes to the official guidance.
Phased return to workplaces
The new Covid guidance envisages a return to physical attendance in workplaces for many staff who have been working remotely. This can commence “on a phased basis appropriate to each sector” from Monday.
In the meeting yesterday, DPER officials assured Fórsa that any return to workplaces will be phased, and that Fórsa representatives will be consulted on the changes. The union stressed that any new arrangements should take account of genuine safety fears arising from individual members’ specific circumstances.
The union stressed that any new arrangements should take account of genuine safety fears arising from individual members’ specific circumstances.
Fórsa also said that arrangements for a phased return to work must be sensitive to the fact that many workers will have to make significant changes to longstanding arrangements for care, transport and other matters in order to return to the workplace.
The union has consistently argued that the benefits of remote and blended working – for workers, their employers and public service delivery – should not be lost. In this regard, Fórsa stressed the need to reinvigorate work on a long-term protocol for public service ‘blended’ working, and this was accepted by DPER.
The objective is to finalise a civil service agreement capable of being adapted and applied across the public service and other employments. Talks, which have been underway since late September, lost some momentum when the last ‘phased return to work’ was stalled in the autumn.
Many aspects of yesterday’s announcement will impact on workplaces and work organisation.
- Social distancing is no longer required
- Face masks will continue to be required in a number of workplaces until 28th February. These include healthcare settings, public offices, libraries, museums, public transport, airports and ports
- Protective measures in schools and early learning and care facilities remain in place until 28th February
- Enhanced illness benefit remains in place until the end of June for those working outside the civil and public service
- There is no change to international transport restrictions at this time.
The protocols on workplace attendance for those with Covid symptoms, positive tests and close contacts are unchanged. You can read the details HERE. DPER has confirmed to Fórsa that civil and public servants who both display Covid symptoms and have a positive antigen test are eligible for ‘special leave with pay.’
Changes to the national protocols governing workplace safety are expected over the coming days, with ICTU due to discuss this at a ‘stakeholder forum’ early next week. Fórsa will be consulted directly on changes to the DPER guidelines specific to the civil and public service.
Fórsa will be consulted directly on changes to the DPER guidelines specific to the civil and public service.
Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan said that, since the outset of the pandemic, the union had insisted that workplace safety measures and workplace attendance arrangements should comply with official public health advice.
“Yesterday’s radical relaxation of the national Covid restrictions was a positive and welcome signal that our collective efforts have brought us to a place where a more normal life is possible.
“All of us are aware of the need for continued vigilance and care to ensure the safety of ourselves and others. And, with your support, Fórsa will continue to work to guide and protect members in this latest phase of the pandemic,” he said.
Read full details of the easing of restrictions HERE.