Covid-19: Home working may hollow out cities, says Varadkar

Ireland could lose out to other countries for talented mobile workers, claims Tánaiste

Leo Varadkar   said   ‘blended working’ would involve less commuting and  more time for family and leisure.   File photograph: Julien Behal Photography

Leo Varadkar said ‘blended working’ would involve less commuting and more time for family and leisure. File photograph: Julien Behal Photography

 

There is a danger that cities could be “hollowed out” by wide-scale working from home or “blended” arrangements after the pandemic, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned.

He suggested that such a development could lead to the Republic losing out to other countries for talented mobile workers.

He also said while new working arrangements would benefit the individual and society and create opportunities for rural Ireland, “we don’t want to turn our homes into workplaces where we are always ‘on’ ”.

Mr Varadkar also said the pandemic must lead to an improvement in the terms and conditions of those not traditionally considered essential or frontline workers. These include cleaners and those in retail, transport and food services. He added that this should include moving towards introducing a “living wage” and providing access to pensions.

Addressing the Employment Bar Association conference on the world of work post-Covid, on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said that as with any great opportunity there would also be challenges presented by new working arrangements that would need to be managed.

Competition

“We don’t want to see our cities hollowed out. Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway will be competing with Barcelona, Liverpool, Paris and Lisbon in the battle for talent. And talent can remote work from almost anywhere, so our cities need to be vibrant places where talent wants to live.”

“So, we need to find a way of ensuring colleagues can properly connect with each other when not sharing the same office, while also ensuring that people feel they can disconnect when the work day is over. We don’t want to turn our homes into workplaces where we are always ‘on’.”

Mr Varadkar said the pandemic had “transformed the world of work forever”. He said the best employers would recognise this shift and embrace it. He added that the pandemic had led the Government to look at significant reforms, including in areas of remote working and sick-pay provision.

He also suggested there had been a broadening of what can be defined as a frontline or essential worker. This now extends beyond the doctor, nurse, garda, fireman or generally “people in uniform with good public sector jobs”.

“Now we also think of the retail worker, transport worker, cleaner and food service staff. One of the legacies of the pandemic must be better terms and conditions for them including the move to a living wage and access to an occupational pension.”

Sick pay

Mr Varadkar also said that provision of mandatory sick pay was “another matter that has become particularly pertinent over the course of the pandemic”.

He said the Government had introduced enhanced illness benefit in March of last year. But it is clear, he added, that a longer-term, more sustainable scheme needs to be put in place for all illness.

“Ireland is one of only a small number of European countries in which there is no legal obligation on employers to provide for sick pay, in the way they do annual leave, for example. This needs to change and I am committed to introducing a statutory sick pay.”

Mr Varadkar said new “blended working” arrangements – which would mean people sometimes operate from their offices and sometimes from their homes or hubs – would offer multiple benefits for society and the individual. He said it would involve less commuting, more time for family and leisure as well as less greenhouse gas emissions from transport.