Revised official advice on Covid-related workplace safety says employers should continue to consult with unions on workplace safety issues and address staff concerns over plans for a phased return to work premises.
The transitional protocol on ‘good practice for continuing to prevent the spread of Covid-19’, published today (Monday), also says arrangements for Covid-related ‘lead worker representatives’ should remain in place.
The protocol represents a radical relaxation in Covid-related workplace safety requirements, and effectively implements the workplace aspects of the Government’s 21st January announcement on the easing of restrictions. Its removal of social distancing requirements and other hitherto compulsory measures remove practical constraints on a phased return to workplaces.
But the Government advice continues to stress the need for consultation and caution, and says there’s nothing to prevent employers keeping safety measures in place on a voluntary basis, following consultation with staff reps.
Fórsa repeated its position that any return to workplaces must be phased, and that workers’ safety concerns must be addressed.
Fórsa repeated its position that any return to workplaces must be phased, and that workers’ safety concerns must be addressed. It also said employees’ longstanding arrangements for childcare, eldercare and other aspects of balancing work and family responsibilities should be taken into account by employers planning a phased return.
The union also stressed the need to negotiate agreements to facilitate remote or blended working into the future.
In an email to Fórsa branches today, the union’s general secretary Kevin Callinan said most employers appeared to be planning a cautious and phased return to workplaces. “By and large, Fórsa officials and representatives are being consulted on any changes and this is in line with assurances we’ve received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) at national level,” he said.
Fórsa met with senior DPER officials at the end of last week, and was again assured that civil and public service employers would be expected to consult with lead worker safety representatives and union reps on issues arising from the changed official guidance.
Last week, the union also expressed strong disappointment with the main aspects of the Governments proposed legislation on a “right to request” remote working.
“We have also moved to accelerate discussions on a long-term civil service framework for remote and blended working, which is capable of being adapted and applied across the public service and other employments. Our objective is to meet the original March 2022 deadline for getting this in place,” said Kevin.
Last week, the union also expressed strong disappointment with the main aspects of the Governments proposed legislation on a “right to request” remote working. In media interviews, the union said the current text was effectively a “right for employers to refuse remote working.”
The Tánaiste has since said that he will consult with unions and employers organisations on possible amendments to the legislation. Kevin said Fórsa would remain in the forefront of union action on this.
The protocols on workplace attendance for those with Covid symptoms, positive tests and close contacts remain unchanged and face masks continue to be required in a number of settings including healthcare, 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.
The transitional protocol also outlines specific measures to protect workers at high risk and very high risk from Covid.