Two Government departments had remote working policy in place before Covid-19

TD says State needs to act quickly, step up efforts to assist employees working remotely

The Government launched a public consultation process on Thursday about guidelines for remote working. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

The Government launched a public consultation process on Thursday about guidelines for remote working. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

 

Two Government departments had “working from home” policies in place before the coronavirus pandemic, it has emerged.

Most other departments have not developed a policy and rely on guidelines from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform issued in recent days and await the development of a long-term policy on remote working.

As the Government launched a public consultation process on Thursday about guidelines for remote working, the Department of Transport said its policy had been in place since January 2015.

“The policy outlines the circumstances and the employees who are permitted to work from home, along with the frequency and the environment under which e-working can be undertaken with the approval of the individual employee’s manager or head of function,” it said.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment introduced its e-policy last year and 28 staff had availed of remote working arrangements up to March, when the pandemic hit Ireland.

In a parliamentary response issued before the change of government, then minister Richard Bruton said an e-working policy has been in place in this department since last year.

Since the pandemic all department staff are working remotely, as is the case for the majority of staff in most government departments.

“A number of supports have been put in place to assist employees when working remotely including a remote working handbook, e-learning modules, wellbeing initiatives, resources from the Civil Service Employee Assistance Service and guidance on cyber security and data protection when working from home,” Mr Bruton said.

The replies were given to Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore who asked all Government departments about their policy in the wake of the huge increase in the of number of employees working from home because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Ms Whitmore said she had expected much more movement from each department in facilitating and progressing remote working opportunities for state employees.

Flexibility

The Wicklow TD said she hoped the new Government “acts quickly and steps up efforts to help workers in each Department work from home with greater ease and flexibility for many reasons including in response to Covid-19 and the increasing uncertainty as to whether schools and childcare will be operating at full capacity from September”.

“Even prior to Covid-19 there was a real need to facilitate remote working not just for greater work/life balance but also to address traffic congestion and our environmental concerns.”

Mr Bruton said further adaptation of the policy would take account of the experience of staff in working from home during the coronavirus pandemic and guidelines developed centrally by Government.

All departments are now working with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which has taken the lead role on the development of guidelines for remote working.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath said that in March the department produced a document containing “key principles for the large number of staff of the department that have been provided with remote working facilities as part of the response”.

These evolved into guidelines “intended to assist civil service organisations as long as necessary to address the health and safety risks of Covid-19”. He said the guidelines had been issued “recently”.

Mr McGrath added that his department had begun work on the development of a remote working policy which will address remote working in the longer term for the civil service.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said his department had issued seven health and wellness bulletins to staff including guidance “in relation to ergonomics set up and related exercises staff members can undertake” and on mental health.