Employers have ‘absolute duty’ to stick to new pandemic protocols

Return to Work Safety Protocol critical to reopening businesses shortly amid Covid-19

Every employer has "an absolute duty" to adhere to the new workplace safety protocols announced by the Government which are not "discretionary", the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has said.

The Government’s Return to Work Safety Protocol was launched on Saturday, setting out a range of measures which employers and their employees will have to follow in order to reopen over the coming weeks.

Patricia King, general secretary of the ICTU, said it is "vital" the protocol is supported and that "every employer and worker plays their part in making our workplaces safe for all".

“The price of negligence is too high,” Ms King said. “There can be no short-cuts or opt-outs when it comes to matters of life and death,Covid-19 does not discriminate and every worker in every sector is entitled to the protection of this protocol.


‘Important milestone’

“This pandemic has impacted severely on every part of our society and economy, and this document represents an important milestone.”

Tom Parlon, director general of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), said he welcomed the involvement of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and "the powers they have".

The HSA will oversee compliance with the protocol and will be able to shut down workplaces which do not adhere to the new measures.

Mr Parlon said some construction sites will need “substantial works” to comply and that workers have been taking induction courses “to familiarise themselves with what is in effect quite a new workplace and a new culture”.

“I know some of my members who were doing essential works found it a difficulty in the early days to get everybody to buy into the culture and it took regular what they called ‘toolbox talks’ to say, ‘Lookit, this is the way it has to be done, if we can’t change it won’t happen and we will be closing down the site’,” he said.

Chambers Ireland said the protocol is an essential framework, but warned the process of reopening will come "with additional costs for many employers".

"More financial supports, along with the expansion of grants, will be essential if employers are to restore jobs and successfully reopen within the parameters in place due to the virus," said Ian Talbot, chief executive of Chambers Ireland.

Danny McCoy, chief executive of business lobby Ibec, said it welcomed that the protocol is “a general document which can be applied across all industry sectors”.

Safety and wellbeing

“Its design allows for the introduction of further sector- or industry-specific measures, as long as they enhance the measures set out in the protocol... It will provide confidence to employers and employees that the safety and wellbeing of people at work can be securely managed as we begin to reopen our economy,” he said.

The Irish Hotels Federation said it is working closely with Fáilte Ireland to develop operational standards in line with HSE requirements and international best practice.

Dublin Chamber said the protocol provides “very welcome practical advice” but warned of the “complexities and costs” that businesses will face in reopening.

"Implementing these changes and complying with the new norms of working is going to be extremely challenging for many businesses, and will be costly too," said Mary Rose Burke, chief executive of Dublin Chamber.

“In many cases, compliance for many firms will mean having to hire additional staff or the redeployment of existing workers. Businesses will require support in adjusting to the new ways of working and Dublin Chamber will be there to help them get the assistance they require.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times