The return to offices and workplaces by workers across the State from Monday is evidence of the success of the Covid-19 public health strategy, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
Mr Martin said it was an important day for the economy, and society as a whole, made possible by the “exceptional progress” in vaccinating more than 90 per cent of the adult population.
He paid tribute to the “continued and consistent hard work of the Irish people” and said society could look forward to the further removal of public health restrictions, to be replaced by guidance and advice.
While cautioning that “we cannot let our guard down”, he said the Government was planning to mark “in the coming weeks” the sacrifice and efforts of frontline workers in the fight against Covid-19.
“We will ask too how we can best honour and commemorate all those who lost their lives in this terrible and unprecedented pandemic” he said.
Traffic volumes were high on all main routes in and out of the capital and regional cities this morning as employers begin to welcome back employees from today under the latest easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
The Department of Enterprise yesterday confirmed workers could not be required to divulge their vaccination status, though they may now be required to attend their workplaces if it is specified in their contract of employment.
The Government has been urging employers to engage with staff representatives to agree on a “phased return”, with a majority of people having spent most of the past 18 months working from home because of pandemic restrictions.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar said he hoped remote and blended working would become a permanent fixture of people’s employment.
His department published lengthy guidelines on returning to the workplace late last week, but they do not specifically deal with the legal obligations on staff to go back to the workplace.
However, when pressed, a department spokeswoman referred The Irish Times to comments by Mr Varadkar in a recent interview, in which he said: “Ultimately people are bound by their contracts of employment.
“Throughout this pandemic there have been people who have been driving buses, who have been working in shops, who have been working in hospitals . . . They were never able to say ‘I’m not comfortable going back to work’ – they had to go to work and we need to be respectful to them too and bear that in mind,” he said.
On vaccination, the spokeswoman said employers “cannot currently require staff to reveal their vaccination status”.
“The Government is confident that the guidance provided, through the recently updated Work Safely Protocol, in addition to the exceptionally high vaccination rate of our adult population, will keep workers safe as they return to the office,” she said.
A guidance note issued under the Labour-Employer Economic Forum earlier this month said that – 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 for workers.
The National Public Health Emergency Team yesterday reported 1,224 further cases of the disease. A total of 278 people are in hospital with Covid-19, with 63 in intensive care.