News & Media

Urgent need to end the inequality of working from home

11 March 2021

Statement by Senator Marie Sherlock
Seanad Whip and Spokesperson on Employment Affairs, Media, Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht
  • Workers must be protected with a right to switch off
  • Employers should be compelled to ensure home working is carried out in a safe environment

Marking one year since many workers were asked to work from home, Labour spokesperson on employment Senator Marie Sherlock has called on Government to progress her Bill to reform the remote working experience. While many have embraced the flexibility provided by remote working, Senator Sherlock highlighted the urgent need to modernise Ireland’s employment legislation to end the exploitation of young workers in particular and legislate for a right to switch off.

Senator Sherlock said:

“For many, the overnight shift to home working has offered freedom and flexibility to make their work life balance work for them. However, we continue to be overwhelmed with stories of young professionals in particular whose employers are exploiting the current situation to embed an ‘always on’ culture in workforces.

“When starting out on your career or if you have ambitions to progress, power is stripped from workers to say no to out of hours work. Employers know this and are exploiting lock down to ask workers to work outside of the agreed hours of work. That’s why the Labour Party wants to introduce a right to switch off for every worker across the country. Workers must be protected to stop the blurring of lines between work and home caused by the pandemic.

“The move to more flexible working must be supported with clear protections for workers and we want to see this implemented urgently. There are four EU countries now with the specific right to switch off (France, Spain, Italy and Belgium). Our laws are out of date, and Covid-19 has shown the urgent need for reform.

"Similarly, the experience of home working has not been the same for all and the situation has changed so rapidly that our laws, protections, and compensation haven’t caught up yet with the reality of pandemic work patterns. Not every worker can hit the ground running.

“Once again, it’s our young workers in the main who are experiencing immensely challenging conditions, particularly those in rented accommodation where we hear stories of three, four, five housemates working on the same kitchen table. Labour’s Bill would require employers to provide a suitable home workstation and flat rate payment to cover the costs now shouldered by workers.

“This Bill is not regulation for regulations sake. It is Labour’s proactive attempt to right the wrongs in the modern workplace that the pandemic has put front and centre. The State must empower workers to say no to out of hours calls and communications and make remote working fairer and safer for workers throughout the country.”