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New tax and expense arrangements promised for working at home

A right to disconnect regulation is also under review.

A new government strategy is to be published by the end of the year.
A new government strategy is to be published by the end of the year.
Image: Shutterstock/fizkes

NEW TAX AND expense arrangements to facilitate remote working will form part of a new government strategy to be published next month, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said today.

As part of a debate on a Bill on the issue put forward by the Labour Party, Varadkar said the government wants remote working, homeworking and blended working to become part of the new normal based primarily on choice.

“If done right the benefits will be significant in reduced business costs, better work-life balance, more balanced regional development, less traffic, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and time saved on the commute been used for a better purpose,” he said

However, Varadkar highlighted that surveys indicate that about 10% or 20% of employees are keen to get back to the office as soon as possible.

Another 10% to 20% would like to work from home permanently, he said, while the majority of employees want blended working, working some days in the office and some days at home or some days in a remote hub.

“That is what we should try to strive to facilitate,” he said.

A remote working strategy will be published before the end of the year, he said.

It will include proposals on a network of digital hubs to be built around the country, tax and expenses arrangements to facilitate remote working “to ensure that the cost is borne fairly and benefits shared”, and the right to request working remotely.

There will also be proposals on the right to disconnect, and supports for businesses to make the digital transition.

Burnout

We all know that the overuse of phones and digital devices has been linked to everything from stress, burnout, sleeplessness, as well as to strained personal relationships from that device that is always on and never more than a few metres away, buzzing, flashing and beeping.

“This is an experience that all of us are familiar with given the jobs that we do. Many people admit that they are glued to their phones and laptops late into the evening. This phenomenon predates the pandemic and the creeping intrusion of electronic communications far beyond the normal working day, even into mealtime, is not just about remote working, nor is it new,” he said.

While he said there are clear advantages to flexible working and working remotely, a long-acknowledged potential downside is the expectation that “we are always switched on, always contactable and always available. That is not how it should be”.

Varadkar said a reduction in the intrusion of work-related digital devices after working hours is needed in order to balance workers’ professional and personal lives.. 

He said Ireland also has a comprehensive body of employment legislation including the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, which already sets out maximum working time and minimum rest periods for employees, setting out obligations on employers to ensure that their employees take regular rest breaks and do not work excessive hours. 

Right to disconnect

He said his office is examining the Act in the context of the right to disconnect to consider deficiencies in the law.

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.

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Italy, Spain and Belgium have also implemented such legislation.

Tyranny

Speaking on the issue today, Labour’s Brendan Howlin said we always believed technology would come to liberate workers and that technology would get to a point at which we could all have endless leisure.

“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 said some large technology companies have no one on fixed working hours, stating some are “constant slaves” because they are all permanently logged in and online.  

“Not only was their work being monitored at all times, but it was being benchmarked against all that company’s workers across the globe. They did not even know whether they were doing well or not. We have to come to grips with that sort of tyranny now,” he said. 

Labour’s Working from Home (Covid-19) Bill requires employers to inform employees of their policy on out of hours communications and protects employees from punishment for failing to respond to communications. 

The Bill also requires an employer to pay employees for suitable work equipment and pay them for the costs of working from home including extra utility costs such as electricity, home heating and broadband.

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