My thanks to Deputy Cronin for raising the issue. She has touched on several cases. I probably cannot comment on all of them because they are simply examples the Deputy is picking out. I am not familiar with the various stories but I will try to talk in general about the issue. Certainly, we can follow up on specific cases if the Deputy wishes.
There are protocols in place and methods to deal with this. The Deputy has raised an array of situations. I am unsure what part of the country the Deputy is referring to and so I cannot comment individually.
I wish to be clear on this. The Government advice is clear in respect of what we expect under level 5 from employers and various businesses. We are currently in level 5 and we are using the Government living with Covid-19 plan. Within level 5, people should work from home unless it is absolutely necessary to attend in person for the delivery of an essential service, as listed on the Government website. The Government website details what those essential services are. It is not for any individual company to decided where it fits in. There is clear guidance and advice. Most employees who contact us are able to track and follow these. The majority of business owners and employers are working to the protocols, guidance and regulations and, more important, to the spirit of the regulations. There is ongoing conversation when it comes to certain products and what is and is not essential. We have asked all those in the retail community to honour the spirit of what we are trying to do. The spirit of level 5 is to protect people, customers and employees.
The reason behind most lockdowns and restrictions is to stop the movement of people so that we can restrict the movement of the virus and reduce the number of close contacts. That is what this is all about in level 5. We have often had the debate in the Chamber when representatives from different sectors say the virus is not in their sectors or here or there. We are trying to restrict the movement of people. That is how we can bring the virus back under control.
The Health and Safety Authority has published guidance in conjunction with major stakeholders around work safety protocols, back-to-work safety protocols and the different guidance that applies. The HSA can be consulted by any employee or business that needs guidance. The HSA does not have a role in determining which employees can work from home. Along with other agencies the authority carries out compliance inspections with the work safety protocol. Any essential worker with concerns about health and safety standards at his or her place of work should contact the Health and Safety Authority for detailed advice on the protocol. The authority will respond to that and a good service is provided. The authority has given a good deal of guidance and has carried out numerous inspections. The inspections have been targeted in some cases and announced and unannounced in other cases. Certainly, the HSA will follow up on any queries or concerns that people might raise.
It is vital that employers and employees resolve these matters relating to homeworking and the choice to work from home. We had a case recently where the option was not provided for. It is important that these matters are solved locally by mutual dialogue and engagement where possible. In the majority of cases I have dealt with, that has happened and we have seen a responsible decision by the employer or business owner.
During the year at different stages of lockdown different employers might have had different views, but over time in recognising the difficulty with public health and the seriousness of this, they have changed their views and have adapted their work practices. The majority of companies that we know of are facilitating people to work from home, work remotely and carry out their services in a safe environment. It is their responsibility to do that by following the guidance and legislation set down.
Again, if there are any issues or if it is not possible to have those disputes sorted out by mutual dialogue or common sense, the disputes can be referred to the Workplace Relations Commission for mediation or conciliation.
The Workplace Relations Commission is providing services both face to face and virtually and its information and customer service facility can answer queries from either an employer or an employee. It is happy to do that and has engaged successfully in that regard.
Separately, and to bring this debate further, the Tánaiste recently highlighted the report Making Remote Work, which seeks to make sure that remote working will still be a choice for many after Covid and will be facilitated but, again, in a planned and co-ordinated way. We understand that many people were sent home in March of last year to try to work from home in an unplanned and unco-ordinated way. Our hope is that we will be able to build on the success of that and the trust created in it in order that in the future, we will have a proper remote working strategy. That is what we are trying to do in conjunction with all the stakeholders, and legislation will come through the House to reflect that in the near future.