Labour’s Ged Nash is appealing for cross border support for his party’s new Working From Home (Covid-19) Bill, which is due to be debated in in Dáil Eireann on Wednesday (November 18) .
The bill was first revealed by the party last week and the Drogheda-based Deputy believes it will give workers the right to switch off from work-related communications outside of set office hours, with the lines between work and home having become particularly blurred during the Covid-19 pandemic in which many people have reverted to working from home, rather than the office.
“The pandemic has changed the ways thousands of people work, and has seen a huge shift to working from home, really blurring the lines between paid work, and time off,” he said on Monday.
The Labour TD says that workers must be provided with the requisite equipment – a workstation, chair and IT equipment – for working from home and also be compensated for home office costs they incur, as Labour seek to formalise the new working normal. They propose a flat rate payment be made to those working from home, rather than the employee having to rely on employer discretion.
“This Bill provides a legal right to ‘disconnect’ from out of hours communications. This will stop the blurring of lines between work and home caused by Covid-19.
“Our laws governing the way we work are out of date, and the Covid-19 pandemic has shown this. 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 the Deputy refers to are France, Italy, Belgium and Spain.
Deputy Nash says that 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.
The new Bill also 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 aforementioned 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.
Labour Senator Marie Sherlock on The Big Tech Show Podcast, with Adrian WecklerListen
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.
“I hope Government TD’s will support this Bill. Workers need to be adequately protected when working from home with decent working conditions and as a result they should not be forced to engage with out of hours communications.”