Smartphones exposing many to longer working hours, Ictu says

Labour Court awarded €7,500 to woman who had to check emails as late as midnight

Ictu said that advances in technology meant many workers are now exposed to longer working time by being reachable outside of office hours. File photograph: Getty Images

Ictu said that advances in technology meant many workers are now exposed to longer working time by being reachable outside of office hours. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Advances in smartphone technology mean that many people are being exposed to longer working hours as they are more easily reachable after leaving the office, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has said.

The trade union umbrella group was responding to a Labour Court case in which a business executive was awarded €7,500 after arguing that she was required to deal with out-of-hours work emails, some of these after midnight. This led to the woman, employed at a subsidiary of meat producer Kepak, working in excess of the maximum 48 hours a week set out in the Organisation of Working Time Act.

Higher civil servants were among those who said they would be keeping a close eye on the fall-out from the Labour Court’s decision.

Patricia King, Ictu’s general secretary, said the Labour Court case highlighted the importance of having clear labour law that provided universal minimum standards “and crucially, the importance of collective bargaining and trade union organisation”.

“With the constant development of new and innovative technology...it is essential now that employers continue to engage with their employees through their trade unions in order that we can secure decent pragmatic agreements...which honour the rights of workers to adequate time off,” she said.

In the case, the Kepak firm submitted that the volume of work undertaken by the woman was in line with that undertaken by other members of staff, none of whom worked in excess of the 48 hour maximum set out in legislation.

Within the law

Employer’s lobby Ibec said flexible working arrangements, whether for personal or business needs, had to operate within the law.

“The core issue under investigation in this complaint was whether the claimant was working in excess of the hours proscribed by the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997,” said Ibec director of employer relations Maeve McElwee.

“It is the case that with increasing demands for flexible and remote working as well as positions that report into global offices in different time zones, many individuals organise their working time to meet personal and/or business needs. However, that flexibility whether for personal or business needs is still subject to the requirements of the Organisation of Working Time Act.”

She said employers and employees must ensure that they were, on average, not working in breach of the legislation.

The Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCPS) said a survey of its members had found that 90 per cent reported working longer than their legally contracted working hours .

Ciaran Rohan, the group’s general secretary, said that given the roles of responsibility they held, his members were on occasion required to work beyond contracted working hours.

“However, it is when occasional becomes constant that this becomes an issue of concern,” he said.

Prohibited

The AHCPs said that as cost increasing claims were prohibited under the public service pay agreement, it had no immediate plans to seek additional remuneration for work outside of contracted hours. “However , this is one of many issues that we will maintain a watching brief on in consultation with our members,” Mr Rohan said.

Employment law expert Eddie Keane said that employees being expected to deal with out -of-office-hours calls and emails was a persistent problem .

“This is a health and safety issue. An overtired worker could be a danger to themselves and to colleagues,” he told RTÉ Radio, adding that employers had to “ step in and address the issue” if they became aware of staff exceeding their contracted hours.