Call for new rules relating to tax and welfare for cross-Border workers

Employers’ groups want it to be easier to live in one jurisdiction and work in the other

A conference in Co Louth heard it should be easier to live on one side of the Border and worker on the other. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Employers on both sides of the Border have called on the Irish and British governments to take action to make it easier for people to work on one side of the Border while living in the other jurisdiction without breaching tax and welfare rules.

The call was made at a conference jointly held in Ballymascanlon, Co Louth, by the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (Ibec) and its sister organisation in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland branch of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

The world of work has become extraordinarily flexible in the wake of the Covid pandemic but “in many ways it’s actually never been more difficult for both employers and employees to navigate the challenges of cross-Border work”, said Ibec’s Fergal O’Brine

Angela McGowan, the director of CBI Northern Ireland, called for an all-island work visa so that Northern employers can attract needed EU talent from which they are currently blocked or limited from doing by UK immigration laws.


In a joint paper setting out their cross-Border priorities the two bodies called for action to deal “with bottlenecks and barriers to all-island labour mobility”, including challenges in the tax and social welfare treatment of cross-Border workers and recognition of qualifications.

Illustrating the difficulties facing workers and employers, Una Fitzpatrick of Ibec’s technology Ireland division said cross-Border rules make it difficult to offer workers living in the other jurisdiction the opportunity to work from home because workers would be in breach of tax rules.

A Derry-based employee of a technology company in Letterkenny in Co Donegal “will have to work pretty much every day from the office” to comply with tax rules and “that then leads to a kind of pushback and frustration”.

A labour mobility strategy for the next 25 years needs to be agreed, the conference was told, though a deal on tax and welfare issues is one that would require an agreement between the UK and Brussels and cannot be agreed between Dublin and Belfast alone.

Illustrating the opportunities when the rules can be met, Denise Collins, human resources director for Newry-based pharmaceutical firm Norbrook, said hybrid working has enabled it to “broaden its talent pool” by recruiting workers who can work “in Cork and in Newry”.

The permanent secretary of Stormont’s department of the economy, Ian Snowden, pointed to the changes that have occurred over the last 30 years, highlighting Northern Ireland’s chronic unemployment in the 1990s with the labour shortages of today.

“It’s extraordinary to think but in the mid-1990s we were refusing to fund projects in areas (under the International Fund for Ireland) because the employment rate there was 15 per cent and that was too low. They were considered to be comparatively well off,” he said.

Now Northern Ireland is moving to “a new conversation” where changes to employment legislation are needed and are being promised to bring it into line with changes that have been made in the Republic and Britain over the last 20 years.

Full employment was “completely unthinkable” in the 1990s and earlier, he said, “so now we’re moving on to a different kind of a conversation since not every job’s a good job to one about the quality of the jobs that we have”.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times