Phased return to the workplace begins
Employers can start bringing staff back into the workplace from today onwards, following the announcement of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions on Friday.
However, unions have urged businesses to exercise caution and consult with staff as the process begins.
Announcing the changes on Friday, the Taoiseach said the return to physical attendance in workplaces should take place on a phased basis appropriate to each sector.
The formal requirement for two-metre physical distancing has also been removed, making the process easier for most employers.
But business representative groups say they expect firms to take a cautious approach and in many cases stick to previously set timeframes that would see them beginning the return in February or after.
They also expect that most organisations will adopt a hybrid model of working into the future, where staff work partly in the office and partly at home.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has urged all employers to ensure they continue to take the necessary steps to keep workplaces safe.
“Remote and flexible working must now become a mainstream feature of future working arrangements,” said Ictu general secretary Patricia King.
Employers’ group Ibec has said businesses will continue to ensure the return to offices and other places of work is done safely and have urged firms to take a responsible approach.
Ibec’s Director of Employer Relations Maeve McElwee said that she does not believe things will ever revert fully to how they were before the pandemic.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, she said that there was a movement towards remote and hybrid working before the pandemic and that it is clear that workers would like a hybrid option.
Fórsa has advised its branches and officials to contact their employers to ensure workers are protected.
It also said that employers must show sensitivity to the fact that many workers will have to make significant changes to longstanding arrangements for care, transport and other matters in order to return to the workplace.
The Labour Party has called for Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to publish immediately new legislation that will guarantee workers the right to flexible work.
“We urgently need a ‘worker first’ framework that reflects the new world of work and how work has evolved over the past two years,” said Labour employment spokesperson Senator Marie Sherlock.
“It makes sense for workers, for communities, for the environment and an innovate way of helping address the cost of living crisis.”
On Friday, Mr Varadkar said he plans to publish proposed new legislation this week giving workers the right to request remote, hybrid or home working.
CIPD Ireland, the representative organisation for HR professionals, said employers should enter the new phase in a way that suits them and their workers.
“It’s also important to remember that just as each new restriction that came in took time to accept, the removal of those rules can spark some concerns in the workforce,” said Mary Connaughton, CIPD Ireland chief executive, said.
“Businesses have the opportunity to make a lot of their own decisions about this and it’s important to design a reopening that works for the business and workforce.”