The proposed phased return to workplaces must be safe, and should build on the positive pandemic experience of remote or ‘blended’ working, according to Fórsa.
The union today (Tuesday) said remote working had largely sustained or increased productivity throughout the pandemic, while bringing wider benefits to employers, workers and society.
The call came as the Cabinet prepares to consider backing measures proposed by its Sub-Committee on Covid-19, including a phased return to workplaces from 20th September.
Fórsa’s head of communications, Bernard Harbor, called on the Government and employer representatives to maintain consultation with unions about a safe return to workplaces based on the health and safety measures set out in a ‘Return to Work Safely Protocol’ published last summer. The protocol was agreed, and has subsequently been revised, under the auspices of the Labour-Employer Economic Forum (LEEF), the State’s most important forum for social dialogue on employment and labour market issues. It is made up of senior representatives of Government, workers and employers.
The protocol has worked well and it should continue to ensure that all working environments are safe and compliant with measures necessary to contain the virus and keep workers and others safe.
“The protocol has worked well and it should continue to ensure that all working environments are safe and compliant with measures necessary to contain the virus and keep workers and others safe. Its requirement that employers consult with worker representatives will continue to be an important safeguard as individual employments plan a phased and safe return to the workplace,” he said.
Mr Harbor also said the benefits of remote or ‘blended’ working should not be abandoned. He said there had been some early engagement between the union and civil service management on the implementation of the Government’s ‘Blended Working Policy Statement,’ published in July.
The Government statement says the civil service will switch from pandemic-related remote working provisions to long-term ‘blended working’ arrangements – a mix of remote and workplace-based activity – between September 2021 and March 2022. The management-union engagement is aimed at agreeing a framework capable of being rolled-out across the public service, rather than being confined to central Government departments and agencies.
We want to see a consistent approach across the civil and public service, with transparency and fairness over access to remote working.
“State employers should show a lead on remote working, which can bring significant benefits to staff, employers and society while sustaining service quality and productivity. 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,” he 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.