The Government is set to come under renewed pressure to negotiate public service-wide safeguards on remote working after Fórsa’s Civil Service Division today (Friday) added its voice to calls for a formal agreement on the issue.
The union says a formal agreement is needed to ensure fair access to remote working arrangements across the civil and public service. It has called for the consistent application of agreed guidelines on identifying functions that can be performed remotely, and for selecting staff to be allocated to home working arrangements.
Fórsa has called for the consistent application of agreed guidelines on identifying functions that can be performed remotely, and for selecting staff to be allocated to home working arrangements.
Fórsa says an agreement is needed to prevent individual civil service departments, organisations or managers from withholding the option of remote working without an objective reason.
The union submitted a formal claim to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) in late March, but no engagement has started yet.
Speaking at the Fórsa’s civil service conference today, its Head of Civil Service, Derek Mullen, said 70% his members had worked productively at home at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have witnessed outstanding and productive responses from the public service throughout the last year and we believe that we can continue in that vein into the future. The world of work has been forced to examine itself as a result of Covid-19, and it’s clear that working arrangements can and will change to take account of the new paradigm.
“We know what’s possible once the correct supports are in place. Now we are demanding clear criteria for the selection of staff who will work remotely, along with full compliance with health and safety measures, including mental health, support for those working remotely, and the right to disconnect.
“Importantly, there should be no divergence from existing terms and conditions of employment, including for new hires, for whom remote working should never be a condition of employment,” he said.
Mr Mullen said his union favoured a blended approach, with remote workers spending some time in the office, as this was the strong preference of most Fórsa members surveyed on the issue last summer. He added that remote working should be voluntary, and that remote workers should have access to any flexible working arrangements in place in physical work locations.
Fórsa says a formal agreement needs to be negotiated under the auspices of the new public service agreement, Building Momentum, which commits public service management and unions to accommodate “the potential of remote working where appropriate in line with the Programme for Government” and to establish the public service “as a driver of best practice in this area.”
There should be no divergence from existing terms and conditions of employment, including for new hires, for whom remote working should never be a condition of employment.
Making Remote Work, the Government’s remote working strategy, which was published in January, developed Programme for Government commitments on remote working and pledged to make remote working the norm for 20% of public sector staff.
Mr Mullen also praised civil servants who had continued to work from offices and other work locations throughout the pandemic. “In social protection, it is estimated that two years’ worth of claims were processed in a matter of weeks, with over 60% of our members continuing to attend at Intreo centres and other offices. Those pandemic unemployment payments, made the difference for all those who lost their jobs.
“We delivered in social welfare, in Revenue with its temporary wage subsidy schemes, in agriculture, in justice, in the customs service and at border controls. Our law services continued, civilian staff continued to attend at Garda stations and many other departments and offices played their important part.
“It was an enormous effort and it continues to this day and I have never been more proud, after almost 40 years with the trade union movement, to represent our members in the civil service,” he said.