Remote working likely a ‘win-win’ for workers and rural areas – unions

Any bid to use changed arrangements to push return to piecework ‘will be vigorously resisted’

Remote working has the potential to be a “win-win“ for rural communities and workers’ quality of life, trade unions have said.

However, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) warned on Monday that any attempt by employers to use the changed working arrangements following the pandemic "to usher in a return to piecework will be vigorously resisted".

It said remote working must be a voluntary option and should not be imposed on workers.

Last Friday, in guidance issued by the consultancy firm Stratis to its private sector clients, its managing partner Brendan McGinty – a former director of industrial relations with employers' group Ibec – said: "A significant issue which will arise with the mainstreaming of remote working is to decide if for certain roles, there should be a movement towards pay for work done, rather than for time."

ICTU general secretary Patricia King said on Monday the union was "fully committed to ensuring workers' hard-won rights are preserved when working remotely, that protections are fit for purpose and that the post Covid-19 world of remote working does not lead to greater work precarity and casualisation".

“It took a pandemic to fully awaken us to the potential for remote working. While the ‘working from home experiment’ has been fraught for some workers, for very many it has been a positive experience and there is now an appetite among our members to maintain the option of work remotely, post Covid-19.”

Quality of life

Ms King said proposals in the new Government rural development strategy to facilitate and support workers to live and work remotely in rural Ireland represented "a big step in the right direction to improve many workers' quality of life".

“ Freeing up workers from their long commutes will ensure more time for family, friends, hobbies, sports and involvement in the wider community.”

The country’s largest public service union Fórsa said management and unions should quickly reach agreement on a clear and consistent public service approach to remote working, based on principles of fair access, adequate employee protections, and robust measures to underpin continued public service quality and productivity. It said this would underpin the official ambition of making remote work the norm for 20 per cent of public servants.

The union said it was currently finalising proposals which could form the basis for talks on such an agreement under the umbrella of the new public service deal, which committed management and unions to accommodate “the potential of remote working where appropriate in line with the Programme for Government” and to establish the public service “as a driver of best practice in this area”.

Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan said: “The rapid expansion of home working during the Covid-19 pandemic has heralded a permanent shift towards significant levels of remote working in sectors across the economy. The experience of remote working in the public service has been innovative, and largely positive with regard to outputs, productivity, and service delivery and quality. Fórsa shares the Government’s ambition to build on this achievement to position the public service as a driver of enhanced and improved home working in ways that deliver for society, service-users, employers and employees.”