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Public service employers flouting health rules on workplace attendance, claims Fórsa

The union said there are many more public servants being ordered into the workplace now than last March.

Image: Shutterstock/YuryKara

FÓRSA HAS ACCUSED several public service employers of “flouting” Covid-19 restrictions on workplace attendance, saying far too many public servants are being required to travel to work to perform roles that can be done remotely. 

The trade union, the largest among public service employees, said advice issued to public service managers falls short of official Government advice to employers. 

Fórsa spokesperson Bernard Harbour told TheJournal.ie that the union has been getting reports from members across the civil and public service who previously worked remotely during the onset of the pandemic but are now being asked to report to work. 

“We’re hearing a lot from local authorities, departments and other areas where people are working in the office even though they’ve previously done exactly the same work remotely earlier,” said Harbour. 

Under Level 5, people are asked to work from home unless essential for work, “which is an essential health, social care or other essential service and cannot be done from home”.

However, Fórsa cites “substantially weaker” guidelines issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on 23 December, which states: “Home working will continue as and when deemed appropriate by the employer, having regard to the changes that may be required at each level.”

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie, a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform spokesperson said that the guidance on working arrangements during Covid-19 for the civil and public service is aligned with the Resilience and Recovery Plan, which covers all sectors, and “therefore cannot be considered weaker than guidance given to the rest of the economy”.

“Guidance is provided for the entire public service with all its diverse roles and therefore it must be flexible enough to provide for individual sectors and employers to consider their own specific circumstances and working arrangements under each of the levels.”

Harbor said Fórsa has repeatedly raised the issue with the department. 

“We’ve sought strengthened advice, but we’ve also been dealing directly with the employers. The many employers in the public service who are actually where the decision finally resides,” Harbour said. 

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“Given where we are with the hospitals and the ICUs you kind of get the feeling that the public health imperative just doesn’t have the same status now as it did in the first couple of months of the pandemic, and it’s a worry.

“Fórsa is speaking out because we believe staff and service-users are being unnecessarily exposed to potentially virus-spreading interactions in workplaces and on public transport, and that this will likely impede the national effort to contain the virus.” 

 

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Adam Daly

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