Civil servants fearful remote working could lead to ‘creeping self-employment’

Fórsa says it is losing patience waiting for deal with Government on blended work arrangements

Staff across the civil and public service are to seek a formal agreement with the Government on “fair access” to remote working in the future and safeguards against any arrangements being abused.

Delegates at the trade union Fórsa’s civil service conference on Friday expressed concern that remote working could lead to “creeping forced self-employment” with State employees ending up like “Deliveroo workers at home”.

Delegate Francis McHugh from the union's Department of Social Protection executive grades branch said members had concerns that remote workers could be turned into self-employed workers and as a result lose pay, pension rights and conditions of employment that they had spent a lifetime paying into.

“Nobody wants to end up like a Deliveroo worker at home,” he said.


He said the union wanted to safeguard the home-working civil servant from “creeping forced self-employment” while having the right to switch off set out in law. He said while the Government’s code of practice on the right to switch off was welcome, it was not a legal right to switch off.

Fórsa said on Friday that there had to be consistent guidelines introduced in relation to roles that could be carried out outside of the office and to prevent the option of remote working being withheld without an objective reason.

Fórsa national secretary Derek Mullen told the conference that it favoured "a blended approach to future working arrangements ensuring that we deal with the key issues that arise, including safe offices, safe home work spaces, serious attention and support for mental health issues, proper equipment and allowances".

He said that choice in relation to working arrangements was also vital and that there also had to be agreement on flexible working arrangement and access to appropriate equipment.

“Importantly, there should be no divergence from existing terms and conditions of employment, including for new hires, for whom remote working should never be a condition of employment,” he said.

Mr Mullen said in a survey last summer the strong preference of most Fórsa members was for a blended approach to working arrangements “with remote workers spending some time in the office”.

He added that remote working should be voluntary, and that remote workers should have access to any flexible working arrangements in place in physical work locations.

The union said a formal agreement was needed “to ensure fair access to remote working arrangements across the civil and public service”.

It called for the consistent application of agreed guidelines on identifying functions that can be performed remotely, and for selecting staff to be allocated to home working arrangements.

Fórsa said an agreement with the Government was needed “to prevent individual civil service departments, organisations or managers from withholding the option of remote working without an objective reason”.

It said it had submitted a formal claim to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in late March, but no engagement has started yet. Mr Mullen said the union was running out of patience waiting for the Government to table its proposals.

He said 70 per cent his members had worked productively at home at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The union represents over 30,000 civil servants in clerical, executive, professional and technical grades.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent