Unions demand stronger remote work rights

A joint union campaign is underway to win changes to a proposed law that the Government claims would give all workers a right to request remote working arrangements. The draft legislation attracted huge criticism from Fórsa and other unions, as well as labour law experts and others, when it was published last month.

Fórsa said the current text of the legislation was effectively a “right for employers to refuse remote working.” This is because of the bill’s extensive get-out clauses for employers, together with extremely weak appeals mechanisms.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, whose department published the bill, has since said that he will consult with unions and employers organisations on possible amendments to the legislation. And, speaking at the Oireachtas committee on enterprise, trade and employment on Wednesday (2nd February) he said “I am open to having this legislation strengthened. I intend to strengthen it.”

Fórsa has asked the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to coordinate a union-wide campaign to ensure an effective effort to radically strengthen workers’ rights in this area. In a message to Fórsa branches earlier this week, the union’s general secretary Kevin Callinan pledged to remain in the forefront of the union campaign on remote work.

“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.

In response to the proposed legislation, Kevin said that, while some work functions could not be performed on a remote basis, employers should not be allowed to refuse flexible work on spurious grounds.

“We expect the legislation to support the consistent application of guidelines for identifying functions that can be performed remotely, and for facilitating staff requests for home-working arrangements unless there is a genuine reason to refuse.

“Fórsa has long sought legislation in this area, and the experience of the pandemic has shown that remote working does not negatively impact on productivity, performance, quality or data security.

“Employers must not have the option of simply turning down requests on spurious or vague grounds. Instead, they must be required to demonstrate, in a concrete way, that remote or blended arrangements are unworkable before they can turn down a request,” he said.

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