The Government wants to see remote working become a permanent fixture of Irish working life, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar has said.
He said he hoped, as the country approached a phased return to the workplace from Monday, that employers were “speaking to their staff to figure out what works best for them and the business”.
Mr Varadkar said that from Monday public health advice no longer required working from home and a phased return to the office would commence.
In addition as part of a further easing of Covid-19 restrictions, thousands of businesses including those providing indoor dance, yoga, pilates studios, art classes and indoor sports and fitness classes would be permitted to resume, catering for up to 100 people, as long as all participants were immune.
The Department of Enterprise and Employment said that a requirement to maintain pods of six participants would be in place where those attending have mixed immunity status. It said all restrictions on outdoor group activities would also be removed meaning no upper limit on numbers.
Mr Varadkar said on Sunday: “Tomorrow is a big day for thousands of businesses who are opening their doors for the first time since the pandemic and thousands of more people getting back to work. It has been an incredibly challenging 18 months for those running indoor activities. Business owners have had to make huge changes to their business, from moving outdoors to moving online. Your efforts to date have doubtless saved lives.”
“Now, thanks to the success of the vaccination programme, we are in a position to ease restrictions further and allow these indoor activities take place, including indoor exercise classes, bands, bowling alleys, amusement arcades, chess, bridge and other indoor activities. All restrictions on outdoor group activities will be removed.”
He said that Ireland was now “one of the best in the world for vaccine uptake”. He said 90 per cent of people over 16 had now received a double vaccination.
The Tánaiste also said that the pandemic had transformed the world of work and had taught everyone what was possible in terms of remote working.
“I hope we can learn something from what worked for workers and employers during that time and incorporate it post-Covid. We really want to see remote working become a permanent fixture of Irish working life. I hope employers are speaking to their staff to figure out what works best for them and the business as this phased return begins.”
The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) Patricia King said the key concern was that staff would be confident that their workplace would be safe as they returned.
She said improvements in the protocol on work safety had been negotiated and that it had commenced dialogue with employers regarding blended working arrangements.
A guidance note issued under the Labour-Employer Economic Forum earlier this month said for at least until late October when further restrictions are scheduled to be eased, the requirement for physical distancing, the wearing of masks and appropriate ventilation would remain in place.
Employment lawyer Síobhra Rush, managing partner at Lewis Silkin Ireland said on Sunday many employers would be welcoming back their workforces on a staggered/phased basis from Monday, until the full relaxation of restrictions in October.
“They are being encouraged to develop/finalise their long-term arrangements and policies for blended/remote work. Hybrid/remote working brings many legal implications, including management of a hybrid workforce, proximity bias/discrimination, costs of equipment and data privacy/confidentiality.”
She said that the updated work safely protocol, which was published last week, was quite technical in nature, and included new sections on antigen tests, and ventilation.
“Employers will need to update their risk assessments as soon as possible, and ensure that the results of those have been provided to staff in a clear and understandable manner. They’ll need to monitor occupancy levels, and try to keep them low, while making sure that indoor spaces are well ventilated.”
Ms Rush said the issue of mandatory vaccination was still being queried, even with the high take-up in Ireland. However she said the position had not changed, and employers could not require it.
“Employers should not ask employees about their vaccination status, and be cautious about not treating unvaccinated workers in any manner which could lead to a discrimination claim/employee relations issue.”