Office return must build on ‘blended working’ experience during pandemic, says union

State employers ‘should show a lead on remote working’, Fórsa says

The proposed phased return to the workplace must be safe and build on the positive experience of “blended working” during the pandemic, the country’s largest public service trade union has urged.

Under plans agreed by the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid-19, expected to be announced on Tuesday afternoon, a phased return to office-based working would begin on September 22nd.

However, Fórsa said on Tuesday that remote working had largely sustained or increased productivity throughout the pandemic, while bringing wider benefits to employers, workers and society.

The trade union said that said State employers “should show a lead on remote working”.

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Fórsa's head of communications, Bernard Harbor, called on the Government and employer representatives to maintain consultation with unions about a safe return to workplaces based on the health and safety measures set out in a Return to Work Safely Protocol published last summer.

This protocol was agreed, and has subsequently been revised, under the auspices of the Labour-Employer Economic Forum for social dialogue on employment and labour market issues which involves Government and union and employer representatives.

“The protocol has worked well and it should continue to ensure that all working environments are safe and compliant with measures necessary to contain the virus and keep workers and others safe. Its requirement that employers consult with worker representatives will continue to be an important safeguard as individual employments plan a phased and safe return to the workplace,” Mr Harbor said.

“The Government statement says the civil service will switch from pandemic-related remote working provisions to long-term blended-working arrangements – a mix of remote and workplace-based activity – between September 2021 and March 2022. The management-union engagement is aimed at agreeing a framework capable of being rolled out across the public service, rather than being confined to central Government departments and agencies.

“State employers should show a lead on remote working, which can bring significant benefits to staff, employers and society while sustaining service quality and productivity. We want to see a consistent approach across the civil and public service, with transparency and fairness over access to remote working. We are also seeking adequate protections on working conditions, privacy and data protection, a right to disconnect, and health and safety including mental health,” he said.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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