Right Way – Just Ahead!
12th July 2022
In April, EY released their 2022 Work Reimagined Survey which revealed insights from more than 17,000 employees and 1,575 employers across 22 countries and 26 industries. The findings explore chief motivators of workforce turnover or retention and highlighted areas of focus for leaders looking to lean in to the opportunities of the moment.
Despite the continuing shift towards flexible working models, 22% of employer respondents said they wanted employees to come back to the office five days a week. Although reluctance to work remotely among employees had fallen (from 34% to 20%) most employees (80%) said they wanted to work remotely at least two days per week.
A month later, the Third annual National Remote Working Survey revealed that 95% of respondents believe working remotely makes life easier. The Survey showed that 30% of respondents (of which there were 8,400) would change jobs – even if it meant a pay cut – if their remote working preferences were not facilitated.
Professor Alma McCarthy, Head of the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics, NUI Galway, said: “The third annual NUI Galway/Western Development Commission national remote working survey has, once again, gained huge interest with more than 8,400 responses. We added a new module asking if remote working was a key factor in changing employer and career decision making.
It is interesting to see that of those who changed employer since the outbreak of Covid-19, nearly half – 47% – indicated that remote working was a key factor in their decision to change employer.”
Remote Working Strategy – One size doesn’t fit all!
So as employers and employees grapple to find the best working models to suit the world of today and tomorrow – one that can attract, retain and reward talent – are we reaching the end of the ‘one size fits all’ approach?
In June, Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys TD, announced a series of new initiatives that will make remote working more accessible and attractive for thousands of people when she launched the Connected Hubs Voucher Scheme which will give remote workers free use of their local digital hub.
At least 10,000 hot desk spaces will be provided under the Scheme, which is aimed at both existing hub users, as well as those accessing hub facilities for the first time.
Minister Humphreys said:
“Remote Working has been a game-changer for thousands of people. It’s given people of all ages a better quality of life – allowing them to spend more time with their family, friends and working within their local town or village. So today, I am absolutely delighted to announce a series of new measures that represent the next chapter in our Remote Working journey.”
However, finding the right strategy that will gain the support of the majority can sometimes be difficult. Transformational change tends to be more of a marathon, not a sprint! It was therefore interesting to read the recently published report by the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme Right to Request Remote Work Bill 2022.
The proposed Bill is just one element of the Government’s broader Remote Working Strategy. The increase in home working since March 2020 as a result of Covid-19 has brought remote working to the forefront of working life in Ireland and globally.
In February 2022, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar referred the General Scheme of the Right to Request Remote Work Bill to the Committee for Pre-Legislative Scrutiny.
The Committee agreed to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny and has sought to consider the proposed legislation, providing recommendations on areas where it believes changes or amendments are warranted.
The purpose of the Bill is to make remote working a permanent feature of Ireland’s workforce in a way that can benefit all. The Bill aims to provide a legal framework around which requesting, approving, or refusing a request for remote work can be based. It also aims to provide legal clarity and procedures to employers on their obligations for dealing with such requests.
Among the heads identified by the Committee and witnesses for further examination include the number of grounds to refuse a request (Head 12), the requirement for a remote working policy (Head 14), Codes of Practice (Head 18), the six-month service requirement (Head 6), submitting another request (Head 7), the time-limit for a response to a request (Head 10) and the Right of Appeal to the Workplace Relations Commission (Head 16).
The Committee made twenty recommendations in the hope that they will assist the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar in improving this important piece of legislation.
A number of the recommendations include:
•The Committee advocates improving the initial right of the worker by removing the need to work 26 weeks before request.
•The Committee recommends remote working should incorporate hybrid and flexible working as well.
•The Committee acknowledges difficulties faced by small and medium enterprises regarding the drafting of policies relating to remote working. Bureaucracy should be kept to a minimum for such enterprises and supports should be provided where this is the case.
•The Committee recommends that codes of Good Practice are quickly evolved so that once in place, refusals must be grounded in a stated policy from employers, founded on these codes.
•The Committee proposes the principles underpinning a reasonable Code of Practice should now be set out in law and allow the WRC to design how they should be applied in different workplace situations.
•The Committee proposes legislation should mandate the WRC to draw up a Code of Practice in the first instance upon which the policies of employers would be based. This code could be changed as required as technology and other factors change and evolve.
•The Committee recommends introducing tighter grounds in primary legislation so that unreasonable refusal should be open to challenge.
•The Committee notes the employer should retain the right to respond within 12 weeks if the employer can cite a reason such as the need to engage health and safety consultants or check a proposed remote working location for internet quality.
Launching the report, Committee Cathaoirleach Deputy Maurice Quinlivan TD said:
“The sudden introduction of homeworking often resulted in less-than-ideal working conditions for both employers and employees. This Bill aims to provide a comprehensive framework to support different working arrangements on a more permanent basis.”
“When this legislation proceeds, the Joint Committee requests that the key issues raised in this report and the conclusions reached during the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny process are taken on board by the Government and implemented.”
Responding to the publication of the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s report, ICTU general secretary Patricia King said: “There has been a deficit of ambition by government to deliver on their commitment to providing workers the right to request remote work.
“The bill as currently drafted does not deliver robust legislation guaranteeing fair procedure and balancing employer and employee needs.
Government must not delay amending the fundamental flaws, it now acknowledges, in this important piece of legislation – in particular tightening the grounds for refusal and strengthening the right to appeal – and getting it enacted.
Patricia King added: “It is important that I correct the conventional wisdom of business interest groups that businesses are ahead of Government on this and have or are in the process of putting in place company policy on remote working. And as such, Government is moving too fast or too far in legislating for remote working rights.
“This does not tally with what we are hearing from union representatives on the ground. Their experience is of employers reluctant to engage until this legislation is enacted.
“Indeed, statutory remote working rights are the norm throughout Europe and the English-speaking world. Government agreed. Now it must act without further delay to ensure that the gains from remote working are not lost.”