Ged Nash TD says the time is now to address the ‘always on’ culture that afflicts workers in the modern age, especially now as working from home has become so prevalent in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Labour Party published the new Working from Home (Covid-19) Bill 2020 which proposes to give workers a right to switch off, and would require employers to provide a suitable home workstation and flat rate payment to cover work-related costs incurred by workers, including electricity and broadband connections.
“Workers must be adequately provided for when working from home with the right equipment, compensated for their home office costs, and given the right to switch off,” Deputy Nash said. “This Bill provides a legal right to ‘disconnect’ from out of hours communications. Giving workers the right to switch off will stop the blurring of lines between work and home caused by Covid-19.
The Drogheda-based TD says he has voiced concerns on this issue in recent years, prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, as modern technologies now mean that work can often follow people home and demand their attention even out of hours.
“Our laws are out of date, and the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the urgent need for reform. Workers shouldn’t be shouldering the many costs of working from home. We’re one of the only EU countries without any modern protection in our employment law for remote working, while there are four EU countries now with the specific right to switch off.”
The four countries in question are France, Spain, Italy and Belgium.
“The right to ‘disconnect’ will mean employers have to clearly set out in writing their policy on out of hours communications, and this would provide workers with access to the protections provided under the Organisation of Working Time Act. So the Bill sets out that an employee is entitled not to engage with electronic communications outside of their normal hours of work but, if they choose to do so, this would count as working time and be subject to the Act.”
“Alongside the move to more flexible working, there must in parallel be protections for workers and that’s why we want this put in place now. We also need to put adequate provision in place for those working from home.
According to figures provided by the TD, just over 200,000 people were working from home in January of this year but at the height of the pandemic that figure rose to nearly 700,000 people.
“Many employers adequately provide for workers at home, but too many don’t, and the situation has changed so rapidly that our laws, protections, and compensation haven’t caught up yet with the reality of pandemic work patterns,” the Deputy said.
“The Labour Bill will require employers to provide a workstation, chair and IT equipment and then mandates employers to pay a flat rate payment. At present payments in respect of working from home are at the discretion of the employer and we can’t allow that to continue.”