National Remote Work Strategy protects workers from “always-on” culture.

23 Mar 2021

Remote Working

In a recent article in the Irish Times under the headline “Government policy on remote working could hurt flexibility and deter investment” Melanie Crowley of Mason Hayes and Curran suggested, “the cap on working hours needs to be removed and the right to disconnect needs to be scrapped”.
What is striking about the article is just how conservative, reactionary and outdated the points are! The workplace is constantly evolving and changing. A successful workplace is one where there is decent work with good collaboration between the employer and employees around issues such as working culture and working conditions. ‘Always on’ does not mean productive. The pandemic has demonstrated that clearly.
Ms. Crowley claimed the Government’s National Remote Work Strategy published recently was “badly askew” in terms of balance and suggested that US multinationals considering investing here would bolt if they heard about rules and regulations that protect Irish workers. She underestimates many of these multi-national firms.
Not for the first time, it is suggested that the rights of workers should be sacrificed the altar of competitiveness. Which in itself is a false premise. Ms. Crowley goes on to dismiss the protection and rights afforded to workers under the Working Time Act 1997 derived from a European Directive and makes the bold claim that it is no longer relevant. Indeed, they remain relevant right across the EU.
This act is vital legal protection for workers as it limits the number of hours an employee can work (48 hours per week, on average) and requires employers to record employees’ working time (including rest breaks) irrespective of flexibility, role, title, or pay.
From the abolition of slavery to equal pay for women, there have always been those who view rights as being expendable. Ms. Crowley advocates “an always-on” culture so Irish workers can be on call after 6 pm when the company in California is starting the working day, this is to erroneously suggest that the Irish workforce is inflexible. Irish workers and their families are all too familiar with vested interests reminding them of the need for more flexibility and extra hours, but such sermons are normally cloaked in more subtle language than deployed by Ms Crowley. Without even a hint of embarrassment she says we need to “we need to drag the legislation into the 21st century,” presumably so as “always on” bosses can text, email or call any time of the day or night.
We are also urged to emulate the Tory playbook. Ms Crowley says “the British government is now free to do what it wants in relation to whole swathes of employment law when it comes to employment law” because of an opt-out for employees when implementing their working time regulations. Time will tell how the UK do with their new branding global Britain and their go it alone approach. Interestingly all the voices of business in the UK advocated against Brexit.
Having endured lectures on the need for economic restraint and sacrifices from the likes of Davy (self-styled experts in “Wealth management”) we are now expected to facilitate a race to the bottom so that Ireland can be more attractive to companies wishing to invest in countries where it is easier and cheaper to exploit labour.
ICTU has been to the fore in highlighting the need for employment protections to keep pace with changes in the way we work, and to close gaps in the law. The ‘right to disconnect’ is a very progressive and flexible workplace tool and generally accepted as such across Europe. It simply provides for less restrictive practices without worker exploitation. The ‘Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect,’ yet to be published, will set out guidelines and best practices for workers and employers in this regard.
The post-pandemic world of work must herald many positive changes. It has created the space and opportunity to make work fairer. In the future, flexible work options such as ‘Remote Working’ and Blended Working’ will undoubtedly feature in the suite of flexibility measures in workplaces and should be available to workers.
ICTU was first to call for legislation to oblige employers to give requests for flexible working arrangements serious consideration.
Finally, It might be advisable for Mason, Hayes, Curran to acquaint themselves with the new order developing across the global Labour Market, where the interests of stakeholders trump those of shareholders, where worker contentment and satisfaction signals increased productivity, and where worker exploitation and discrimination is regarded as the shameful practice it is. Perhaps these US multinationals Ms. Crowley is meeting would be advised to seek a second opinion!

Patricia King General Secretary Irish Congress of Trade Unions