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 Header Item Working from Home (Covid-19) Bill 2020: First Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil
 Header Item Finance Bill 2020: Motion
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2020: Messages from Select Committees
 Header Item Message from the Standing Business Committee of Dáil Éireann

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1000 No. 6
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly] The number of people working from home on a regular basis has more than trebled from 200,000 to 700,000 as a result of the pandemic. We will have to address the issues that have arisen out of that change. The laws regulating home working are either piecemeal, out of date or unworkable. I am sure everybody in the House will accept that the Organisation of Working Time Act is designed for a different era. Its basis is fine but it is out of date. Eight months into the pandemic, we really need to get up to speed with how these issues are being dealt with in other jurisdictions. Four of our European partners have moved to address them quite swiftly and we must do the same.

We are introducing this Bill to protect workers in a situation where there is an increasing number of issues affecting their day-to-day working lives. The Bill gives two new protections to employees who work from home. The first is to give all workers the right to switch off. This is a very important protection that will ensure fair treatment of workers working remotely. The advances in information technology and mobile telephony over the past 20 years have enabled people to contact each other through different channels with an ease that was unthinkable a few years ago, let alone a decade ago. Whether it is by way of email, text messaging, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Zoom, Google Duo, Microsoft Teams or even the good old-fashioned telephone call, there is rarely an instance where a person cannot be contacted. In this environment, politicians, like many people, now have to manage our contact channels. People who are working from home deserve to be able to do the same.

All this increased connectivity brings with it increased opportunities for employees to be pressurised into working long hours and responding to messages late at night. A recent report by RTÉ on staff working in the Houses of the Oireachtas showed that we are not exactly angels in our own working environment. The culture of always being on has a very negative impact on people's physical and mental health, not to mention family life, as I am sure we are all aware. Our Bill requires employers to set out a policy in regard to out-of-hours communication and ensure employees will not be punished for failing to respond to emails or other communications.

As I said, we need to quicken our pace in addressing these issues, following what has been done in France, Italy, Spain and Belgium. Ireland is one of the only countries in the EU without any modern protection in our employment law for remote workers. The second key protection the Bill offers is to sort out the mess that is the requirement on employers to ensure their employees' workspace is suitable and appropriate. At present, employers are, in effect, required to inspect the homes of their employees to ensure their workspace meets the requirements. This is ludicrous and cannot be enforced. We have proposed the pragmatic solution that employers be required to provide the equipment employees need but do not have, such as a suitable desk and chair, and pay a fixed amount to cover the cost to the employee of working from home, such as heating and lighting. Much of this can be done through amendments to the tax codes and other small changes that I am sure the Tánaiste will support. Such changes are particularly important for people in low-paid employment and those who are renting.

My colleague, Senator Marie Sherlock, has carried out a survey on this issue, which found that the lack of suitable workspace at home, especially for those renting, is really impacting on people's mental health. The lack of clarity about supports and compensation for employees for the costs of working from home is also affecting workers negatively. The idea that people in rented accommodation will invest in home-working equipment is not realistic. However, employers often put them under pressure to perform and they may not be able to do so without investing. There must be some formula for dealing with that.

I hope the Taoiseach will give our proposals his consideration. I meant to refer to the Tánaiste. This is the first time I have made that Freudian slip. I was one of the few people who never made it but now I have slipped up as well. I call on the Tánaiste, the Government and all parties to support the Bill. Collectively, as the Dáil and Seanad, we all know we need to deal with this issue. Covid has been a disrupter and it has changed everything. We must change with it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is the Bill opposed?

Deputy Brendan Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin No.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

  Question put and agreed to.

Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil

Deputy Brendan Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin It is proposed, notwithstanding the Order of Business of Tuesday, 10 November 2020, that No. 9f, motion re the facility to postpone sections of the Finance Bill 2020, be taken now without debate and that any division demanded thereon be taken immediately.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is that agreed? Agreed.

Finance Bill 2020: Motion

Deputy Brendan Griffin: Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin I move:

That in the case of the Finance Bill 2020 and notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, it shall be in order for the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and

Taoiseach, notwithstanding the fact that consideration of a section or sections has commenced, to postpone further consideration of such section or sections until another section or sections or schedule shall have been disposed of.

  Question put and agreed to.

Estimates for Public Services 2020: Messages from Select Committees

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Select Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending on 31 December 2020: Vote 34.

The Select Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimates for public services for the service of the year ending on 31 December 2020: Votes 26 and 45.

Message from the Standing Business Committee of Dáil Éireann

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Standing Business Committee of Dáil Éireann has completed its consideration under Standing Order 30 of the request from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to waive the requirement to give the general scheme and draft heads of the Planning and Development Nature Conservation (Heritage Functions) Bill 2020 to the relevant committee under Standing Order 173 and has agreed thereto.

  Sitting suspended at 1.25 p.m. and resumed at 1.45 p.m.


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