The global health crisis has meant that many in our community are working from home and I thank you all for your continued efforts to help curb the spread of Covid19. It has been a challenging time. I would just like to remind you there is tax relief available for e-working either through your employer or it can be claimed as an individual.
As our country continues to navigate the global health crisis, remote working and enabling digital technology have become more important than ever. My Department is aware of the potential benefits that remote working offers to employers, employees and society in general. These benefits include increasing participation in the labour market, attracting and enabling talent, enabling balanced regional development, alleviating accommodation pressures, improving work, life balance, reducing the amount of time spent commuting and reducing carbon emissions. That being said, we need to strike a balance. I am conscious that so many people are working from home in an involuntary capacity to assist in our collective efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19. I want to thank them for their continued forbearance. Remote working can pose challenges to people’s ability to socialise and to their mental well-being. If private homes are to operate as places of business, employees cannot be expected to respond to work-related emails or phone calls outside of their normal working hours. A work, life balance needs to be maintained.
I welcome the Labour Party’s Private Member’s Bill as an important addition to the debate in this area. The Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy English, have given their views on the domestic situation.
I want to refer to what other countries are doing. The right to disconnect has been a significant topic of debate throughout the EU in recent years. Only four member states have introduced specific legislation giving a right to disconnect. There is a lack of consensus at EU level on the need for a specific directive in this area. The scope of legislation on the issue, and the way it is implemented and enforced, varies between countries. It should be noted that, in all instances, collective bargaining plays an important role. Under the French law, for example, companies with 50 employees or more are required to negotiate with employee representatives in order to determine the conditions of use of electronic communication tools. No legal definition of the right to disconnect is given under law. Instead, it requires employers to choose the most practical way to implement that right, taking into consideration the nature of their business. Under the French law, the right to disconnect must be included in mandatory annual negotiations with trade unions. While the provisions of the law impose an obligation to negotiate on the right to disconnect, they do not impose an obligation to reach an agreement. If no agreement is reached, the employer is still required to draw up a charter setting forth the terms and conditions under which employees can exercise their right to disconnect. It would be helpful to look at some of the best examples of what is being done in this area elsewhere.
The Labour Party’s Private Members’ Bill provides for employers to give their employees, free of deduction of tax, a flat-rate payment of such amounts as may be approved by the Revenue Commissioners to meet additional expenses incurred. I advise Deputies that there is already an administrative practice in place that is sufficiently flexible to allow for workers to have their expenses met by employers without giving rise to tax liability. The current value of the allowance in question is €3.20 day, which equates to €16 a week or €842 per annum. This is in addition to the fact that equipment may be provided without giving rise to a benefit-in-kind charge, including the provision of telephone lines and broadband facilities where private use is incidental. The tax issue raised more generally will be considered as part of the examination by the Department of Finance of the feasibility and merits of changing tax arrangements to encourage more people to work remotely, in line with the commitment in the programme for Government.
Even before the pandemic, the traditional nine to five was gradually giving way to more flexible and fluid ways of working. For many employees with customers and colleagues based in locations across the globe and in multiple time zones, working after 5.30 p.m. has become necessary as part of their day-to-day work. I am conscious that restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 mean it is mandatory for many people to work remotely who otherwise would not be doing so. This underscores the need for a coherent strategy for remote working. The pressures of needing working space in the home, working and caring for children and limited social contact all demonstrate the need to continue to roll out more working hubs in every county and provincial town.
More information available at: https://www.revenue.ie/en/jobs-and-pensions/eworking/index.aspx
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