A committee report on the Right to Request Remote Work Bill has addressed concerns regarding flexibility and the need to work 26 weeks before a worker puts in their request.
New laws on remote working in Ireland should incorporate hybrid and flexible working. That’s according to an Oireachtas committee, which has made 20 recommendations for the legislation that will give employees the right to request remote working.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment announced the introduction of the Right to Request Remote Working Bill in January of this year. It aims to provide a legal framework for Irish workers to request remote work and have their request approved or refused by employers.
However, several interest groups and individuals have criticised the bill. Mary Connaughton, director of HR body CIPD Ireland, said earlier this year that it was “disappointing” to see no provisions for flexible working in the bill.
ICTU general secretary Patricia King added the bill was “fatally flawed” and “stacked in favour of the employer at every turn”. She also said the grounds for refusal and for appeal would “significantly impair the usefulness and effectiveness” of the proposed scheme.
The Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment published its recommendations on the bill in a report yesterday (7 July). Among the recommendations were that it should incorporate hybrid and flexible working as well.
The committee also advocated for the removal of the need to work 26 weeks before a worker puts in their request – another concern of the bill’s critics.
It recommended establishing a code of practice upon which the policies of employers around remote working should be based. The principles underpinning a reasonable code of practice would be laid out in law to allow the Workplace Relations Commission to decide how they should be applied in different workplace situations.
The committee said this framework should be implemented as soon as possible to ensure that any refusals to grant an employee the option to work remotely be grounded in policy. It also suggested tighter grounds in primary legislation so that unreasonable refusal should be open to challenge.
The report did acknowledge the difficulties faced by small and medium enterprises regarding the drafting of policies relating remote working, and said supports should be provided where necessary.
It also said that an employer should retain the right to respond to an employee within 12 weeks if they can cite a reason. These reasons could include the need to engage health and safety consultants or check a proposed remote working location for internet quality.
The Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment is made up of several government and opposition politicians.
Announcing the publication of its recommendations yesterday, chair Maurice Quinlivan, TD, said that the bill aimed to “provide a comprehensive framework to support different working arrangements on a more permanent basis”.
He asked that the Government take on board and implement the “key issues” raised by the committee during the pre-legislative scrutiny process.
Responses to the report
The committee’s report and recommendations have been welcomed “in broad terms” by Irish-founded, community-led remote working network Grow Remote.
“What’s really critical is that the legislation ultimately helps to drive the systemic change needed at all levels to support companies to make the transition to remote,” said Grow Remote co-founder Tracy Keogh.
“If we don’t act now to establish remote working as a key pillar of economic and social development in Ireland, we risk losing the momentum gained over the past two years. We risk seeing fantastic remote jobs landing in the countries that are moving quickly on this, such as Portugal and the Netherlands.”
Keogh added that employers should be supported in providing remote working rights to their staff.
“Alongside impactful legislation that should empower employers to say yes to remote working – rather than providing them with a list of reasons to refuse – we must take bold steps to de-risk this change for employers.”
Grow Remote recommended that SMEs be supported with funding at a local level to implement remote working models. It also said that the Government should lead by example and prioritise embedding remote working across the public sector.
The remote working trend is not likely to disappear any time soon, as indicated by the second quarterly report of 2022 from IrishJobs.ie.
The report found that there was an 11pc increase in the number of jobs advertising remote work – suggesting that even as offices have reopened, there is still a growing number of remote opportunities being offered by employers across the country.
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