Tánaiste and Minister for Employment Leo Varadkar earlier this year appealed directly to Facebook to liaise with the Workplace Relations Commission and the Health and Safety Authority to resolve ongoing complaints from content moderators about their terms and conditions.
Mr Varadkar is understood to have personally contacted the company’s head of public policy Dualta Ó Broin over concerns raised in a meeting he had with Dublin-based moderators employed by Facebook’s partner Covalen in late January.
He is believed to have outlined to the tech giant how the moderators felt the terms and conditions attached to their outsourced posts were “significantly” inferior to those doing similar work but employed directly by Facebook.
Among the issues raised by Mr Varadkar were concerns from content moderators over access to qualified counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists to support them when they encounter personal difficulties due to the work they are engaged in. This includes reviewing posts on the social media platform, which can contain graphic violence, exploitation, extremism, abuse and suicide.
The moderators also raised concerns regarding non-disclosure agreements they were required to sign without being given copies to keep. In addition, they repeated earlier concerns over not being able to work remotely during the Covid lockdown as direct employees were able to do.
Facebook is understood to have told Mr Varadkar in response to the concerns he raised that Covalen had responded to a request for information from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) over health and safety measures. The HSA also separately confirmed it was following up on complaints made by moderators.
The tech giant also said staff working for Covalen had access to a team of clinical and counselling psychologists and also to private health insurance should they wish to see someone external, although they would were liable to benefit-in-kind tax on this. Lastly, it said employees could request copies of confidentiality agreements if they wished.
Isabella Plunkett, a content moderator working with Covalen in Dublin, last week told an Oireachas committee of a "pervasive climate of fear" that exists in her place of work with staff experiencing "extreme mental stress".
Mr Varadkar is due to appear in front of the same committee on Wednesday to discuss the employment rights and health and safety of content moderators. Separately, Facebook is to appear before the committee on media on the same day as part of ongoing scrutiny of the 2020 Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.
Covalen, which is contracted by Facebook to moderate its content, is a subsidiary of the recruitment company CPL. The tech giant agreed a new four-year contract with the company late last year.