Fórsa trade union seeks assurances over return to workplace

Trade union says that the benefits of remote working must not be lost

The new Covid guidance envisages a return to physical attendance in workplaces for many staff who have been working remotely since March 2020.  Photograph: iStock

The new Covid guidance envisages a return to physical attendance in workplaces for many staff who have been working remotely since March 2020. Photograph: iStock

 

Fórsa trade union is seeking a consultation on the phased return to workplaces, saying that the benefits of remote working must not be lost.

The union has advised its branches and officials to make contact with their employers about the return to work after the government lifted the majority of Covid-19 restrictions on Saturday morning.

The union said the phased return to workplaces and an end to social distancing and some mask wearing will impact on workers and workplace safety measures.

The new Covid guidance envisages a return to physical attendance in workplaces for many staff who have been working remotely since March 2020.

This return can commence “on a phased basis appropriate to each sector” from Monday, according to the government’s announcement.

Fórsa met with senior officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) on Friday.

In the meeting, Fórsa said they were assured by DPER officials that any return to workplaces will be phased, and that Fórsa representatives will be consulted on the changes.

The union said that they stressed that any new arrangements should take account of genuine safety fears arising from individual members’ specific circumstances.

Blended model

Fórsa also called for work to begin on a long-term protocol for public service “blended” working, which was accepted by DPER.

Talks on this blended model started in late September but lost some momentum when the last phased return to work was stalled later in autumn.

Meanwhile, many people have called for the right to work from home, after the government’s announcement on Friday signalled a firm commitment to a return to the physical workplace.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on Friday that if a worker’s contract stipulates that they must work from a certain location they are obliged to do this, and any decision on working from home has to be between the employer and employee.

Minister of State for disability, Anne Rabbitte, said a memo went to cabinet this week in relation to remote working, however, there is currently no underlying basis for employees to demand a work from home option.

“We know that this legislation is on the way. It is one of the priority prices of legislation, which will be prioritised in this first two sessions of the Dáil.”

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Saturday with Katie Hannon, Minister Rabbitte said that she is anxious to see legislation in relation to remote working pass, as it can improve work life balance and also create more work opportunities for people with a disabilities.

Sinn Féin TD, David Cullinane, said if there is government and opposition consensus on the issue, the legislation should pass quickly. “This is about choice.”

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