The Government and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have been accused of “pulling a fast one” on legislation dealing with remote working.
Sinn Féin enterprise spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly claimed the Government had failed to deliver on the strategy despite having nearly two-and-a-half years to do so.
Social Democrats joint leader Catherine Murphy said Mr Varadkar’s proposals on the right to request remote working are “pretty useless”.
She said it was “less a request for remote working and more a right to be told ‘No’ in writing”.
The two TDs were speaking in the final stages of debate on the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, which will make a wide range of changes to existing employment law including five days leave to be taken for victims of domestic abuse, despite opposition calls for 10 days.
There is also provision to ensure that transgender males who have obtained a gender recognition certificate and subsequently become pregnant, are covered by provisions of the 1994 Maternity Protection Act.
The legislation also deals with birth tracing and adoption issues as well as extending the current entitlement to breastfeeding breaks from 26 weeks to two years.
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said that up to December 5th a total of 5,847 applications for information have been received by Tusla and the Adoption Authority of Ireland.
In addition, a total of 2,597 applications for tracing have been made. The register enables people affected to register if they want to be contacted.
“Since opening, almost 3,000 new contact preferences have been registered, both within Ireland and from abroad. The Adoption Authority of Ireland has identified 194 matches to date and is engaging directly with individuals,” he said. He added that to date, information has been released to 558 individuals.
During the debate Ms O’Reilly accused the State of trying to “circumvent its failure” by allowing Mr Varadkar, who is also the Minister for Enterprise, to “annex” complex remote working law on to Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman to amalgamate it with his Work Life Balance legislation.
“The Government and the Tánaiste are pulling a fast one in relation to remote working and are denying us, as elected representatives, the opportunity to query or raise concerns,” about complex legislation.
Additions to the Bill include provisions relating to remote working but Ms O’Reilly hit out at a measure that require employee to be in a job at least six months continuously before an “approved remote working arrangement” can commence.
She questioned why the Government was persisting with the six months continuous employment requirement.
Ms O’Reilly said that last week the British minister with responsibility for small business Kevin Hollinrake “removed the clause requiring six months’ continuous employment for workers requesting remote working”.
The minister described the move as a “no-brainer” to extend the existing right to request flexible working after 26 weeks with an employer to all employees from day one and would help balance work life and home life.
“All we are asking is that the Government try hard to be as good on workers’ rights as the Tories,” Ms O’Reilly said.
She also accused the Government of taking a “paternalistic approach” by requiring workers to give a reason for seeking remote working arrangements.
“In my mind there is a paternalistic aspect to this, which will mean requests for remote working will not be equally considered.”
Ms Murphy said a number of issues “deserve a lot more scrutiny than they are being given”, including the domestic violence leave which is capped at five days. “It was made clear by witnesses and experts at the children’s committee that five days is not sufficient and it must be ten days.”
Labour’s Aodhán Ó Riordáin said it was becoming a trend for the Government to introduce substantial amendments to Bills going through the Oireachtas unrelated to the original purpose of the legislation. “It is not good practice and it hinders our ability to scrutinise legislation.”
The Bill was expected to pass late on Wednesday night when the debate was due to be guillotined after an hour.