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Switching off

Consultation begins on the 'right to disconnect' from work out of hours

Allowing workers to switch off is particularly important in remote working scenario, said the Tanaiste.

A PUBLIC CONSULTATION on giving employees the right to disconnect from work is to be carried out by the Work Relations Commission (WRC).

Earlier this year, the Tánaiste asked the commission to design the new code of practice, that would once be approved by the minister, be admissible in evidence in proceedings before a court.

“We want remote working to become a bigger part of life after Covid. If done right, the benefits will be huge. However, it is vitally important that the existing rights and entitlements that employees enjoy are maintained and that an appropriate work-life balance is struck,” said Varadkar. 

He said the code, or guidance, would ensure both employees and employers are aware of their requirements and entitlements, and how the right to disconnect will apply, especially in a remote working scenario.

“It’s really important that we get this right so that employees can switch off from work properly,” said Varadkar.

A review of the law to give workers the right to disconnect, which gives workers the legal standing to avoid work emails outside working hours, began under former Business Minister, now Social Protection Heather Humphreys. 

The initiative was introduced in France in 2017, mandating companies with more than 50 employees to develop a charter defining employees’ right to switch off and setting out the hours when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails.

Italy, Spain and Belgium have also implemented such legislation.

Apart from providing practical guidance, the code is expected to have considerable standing in the context of the resolution or investigation by the WRC and other bodies in industrial relations or employment rights disputes.

“Working from home has become the norm for many this past year and although technology has meant that we have been able to stay connected in a way that wasn’t possible years ago, it also has it’s downsides. This new code will help all workers strike a better balance between home and work life,” said Varadkar.

The issue has also been highlighted by the opposition in recent weeks, with Labour’s Brendan Howlin stating that while we always believed technology would come to liberate workers, the reverse is true.

“A new tyranny is often imposed by the ability to constantly contact employees and the expectation of bosses that one will respond at any time. That cannot be allowed to continue,” he told the Dail last month. 

In addition to moves to make it easier for people to switch off from work, the Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys has said the government needs to be more ambitious in its targets for remote working into the future.

There is a commitment in the Programme for Government that 20% of public sector employees will be able to work remotely.

“My own opinion is that we need to be much more ambitious than that. In the Department of Rural and Community Development, I think almost all staff – that’s over 95% – are working remotely at the moment,” said the minister.

“In Social Protection, over 3000 staff are working remotely and that’s about 50% of the Department’s staff.

“And if Social Protection can get 50% of staff remote working given all the challenges they have faced in terms of getting payments out to people, 13 million since last March. I think that shows that we need to be much more ambitious,” she said.

“I do believe if we were writing the Programme for Government today, I think the target would be higher. And I think there’s no reason we shouldn’t be more ambitious,” said Humphreys yesterday.

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