Chambers Ireland welcomes the publication by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar of the National Remote Working Strategy “Making Remote Work”. The report commits to an acceleration of the National Broadband Plan, investment in remote hubs, reviewing tax treatment and introducing legislative changes on rights to request remote working.
Speaking this morning, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said, “The Strategy is an ambitious vision for the future of work in Ireland and the potential to transform the workplace into one that supports quality of life, inclusion and regional development. We welcome the alignment of the Strategy to other key government policies such as the National Economic Plan, the Climate Action Plan, the Town Centre Living initiative, and the forthcoming Sustainable Mobility Policy.
Over the past few years, Chambers Ireland and our members have championed the benefits of flexible and remote working, and we commend Government on their commitment to ongoing consultation as the Strategy was developed, including their reference to authoritative research recently published by the Western Development Commission and the Whitaker Institute on Remote Work.
Of particular importance to our members is the commitment within the report to examine the acceleration the National Broadband Plan and develop a National Hubs Network. The experience of the pandemic means that it is more important than ever that we ensure rapid delivery of high-speed broadband throughout the country.
Remote working paired with a National Hubs Strategy, could play a transformative role in reviving our towns, villages, and urban centres. We particularly welcome the commitment to align hubs with childcare provision and access to public transport.”
Also speaking this morning, Chambers Ireland Director of Policy and Communications Emma Kerins noted the need for investment in skills and training.
“Through consultation and engagement with our members we know that many companies have been looking to leverage the benefits of flexible and remote working, even long before the onset of COVID-19. While we look forward to engaging with the Department on future consultation regarding a Right to Request and Right to Disconnect, we must ensure that such rights support flexibility, for both employers and employees, and are SME-friendly in their design. Government must ensure that a “right to request” is developed in a way that is cognisant of growing data that shows most employees would prefer hybrid, or blended forms of remote working.
Most importantly, if remote working is to evolve in a way that supports competitiveness, productivity, and job creation, it must be complimented by an ambitious skills development strategy for managers and leaders, particularly in SMEs. We note commitments to expand training and skills development and we urge the Government to make urgent progress, particularly if we are to capitalise on the experience of remote working during the pandemic.
Finally, remote working, as an element of wider flexible working, presents significant opportunities in creating a more equal workforce by boosting labour participation and making the place of work more inclusive. However, there is growing evidence, nationally and internationally, that the negative impacts of the pandemic on the workforce have been felt more strongly on women than on men, with women carrying more of the load when it comes to childcare, homes duties and home-schooling. Through feedback from members, there are concerns that the experience of remote working during the pandemic may harm career progression for women and potentially widen the gender pay gap. While these concerns are acknowledged within the report, as the strategy evolves, we call on the Department to closely monitor the impact of remote working on gender equality in the workplace.
The consequences of COVID-19 for the health and economic well-being of Irish society cannot be understated. It is likely that we will be living with the destructive impacts of the pandemic for some time to come. However, with vaccinations in sight, it is important to look to the future and the legacy of our experience with the pandemic. The Department’s Remote Work Strategy is an ambitious set of targets that could have a transformative impact on labour participation, quality of life and regional employment. We look forward to working with Government over the coming months as it is implemented.”