Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Ceisteanna (4)

Imelda Munster


4. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the research undertaken on the issue of flexible working, including its impact on the welfare of employees; the number of staff assigned to the report being compiled by her Department on the issue; her plans to publish the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41103/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (9 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Business)

What research has the Minister's Department undertaken on the issue of flexible working, including its impact on the welfare of employees? How many staff have been assigned to the report her Department is compiling on the issue? When does she intend to publish the report?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. My Department and I understand the importance and potential of flexible working. As the nature of work and society changes, the way in which we organise work must also change. A labour market which offers flexible working solutions can result in tangible benefits for employers, employees and wider society. This is addressed under pillar 4 of the Future Jobs Ireland strategy. Pillar 4 is focused on increasing participation in the labour force as this will lead to the more equitable, balanced and sustainable development of Ireland's workforce.

Pillar 4 of Future Jobs Ireland outlines a number of key ambitions and deliverables to help to increase participation in the labour force. Specifically, ambition 4.2 of the strategy is focused on fostering participation in the labour force through flexible working solutions. Flexible working can encompass a wide variety of practices, including part-time and compressed hours, job sharing, home working and remote working. Such solutions allow for tangible benefits for employees, including improving their work-life balance. Flexible working also assists in the development of an inclusive society. By removing some of the barriers to work for people with caring responsibilities and providing a framework for flexible retirement, increasing flexible working could improve labour market participation, particularly among people with caring responsibilities, older people and people with disabilities. For wider society, remote working has the potential to stimulate regional growth, lessen accommodation pressures and support the transition to a green economy.

There are a number of key deliverables under pillar 4 of Future Jobs Ireland, with the objective of fostering participation in the labour force through flexible working solutions. They include deliverables such as holding a national consultation on flexible working options, the development of guidance for employers on family-friendly working options and the extension of unpaid parental leave. These deliverables are being led by the Department of Justice and Equality, with an input from my Department. A further deliverable under this pillar, on which my Department is leading, is the completion of research on remote working.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The objective of this research is to understand the prevalence and types of remote working arrangement within the workforce and the attitudes towards such arrangements. The research will also identify the influencing factors for both employers and employees partaking in remote working.

As we know, work practices are changing. Therefore, we need to develop a framework that will incorporate and respond to the demands of modern working and for flexible work arrangements. The social and economic benefits for both employers and workers are wide-ranging. According to the most recent census, there was a 14% increase in the number of people whose primary workplace was their home. The Minister does not need me to tell her the advantages of this for workers. They will spend less time commuting into cities and sitting in traffic and it may reduce bills, including childcare bills, while rents may be reduced, etc. I am interested in seeing the completion of the research the Minister's Department is carrying out. I say this on the basis that our European counterparts are decades ahead of us, particularly when the majority of jobs are city-focused and city-centred and we are talking about climate change, the environment, travel, infrastructure and the lack thereof.

The Minister will have two further opportunities to respond.

One would imagine the Department would be a little further on, considering that we are so far behind other European cities and countries.

I absolutely support flexible working arrangements. That is why earlier this year the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and I held a consultation event at Cavan Digital Hub, a new hub in the town of Cavan that allows people to co-work and work remotely. It is also a landing base for companies that want to come into the region. I held the event to hear and promote the views of employers and employees on remote working. We are in a time of full employment and want more people, particularly those in caring roles, to return to the workforce. There are many benefits to be gained. There will be a better work-life balance and employees might not have to commute long distances. It will also take pressure off the cities. For example, Apple in Cork employs 1,000 people who are working remotely. It is a question of how we can work with employers and employees. We have had the consultation and carried out research. It will identify new potential data sources based on desk research and engagement with stakeholders. Two staff members in my Department are working on the report and being assisted by an interdepartmental steering group.

The Minister said in her earlier response that there was a proposal for a national consultation on flexible working. Does she have any idea when it will kick off, given that we are lagging behind others and it would be a very good first step? The other worrying aspect is that there is no legislation or guidelines governing this area. What happens as a result is that there are varying standards, subject to a company's individual and specific policies. That is not the practice we want to see. When will the Government put in place a policy in order that there will be rules governing the area and that people will know where they stand and whether they can access remote working? As it would also protect workers and their rights, it is important that legislation be brought forward.

The Minister, Deputy Bruton, and I have already held a consultation event. As I said, we want to hear the views of employers and employees because it is a win-win for everybody. It is a question of how we can find the right way to do it. The findings of the consultation will feed into the research on remote working being carried out by my Department. We want to figure out through it the extent of remote working among the workforce, the types of arrangement in place, the attitudes towards remote working and the factors that influence employers and employees in pursuing remote working. Ultimately, the research will inform new Government policy on the issue. The policy could take any one of a number of forms. It could be a Government strategy or it may be a charter to which employers could sign up. We need to take stock of the discussions. While we have to await the outcome of the research, I am satisfied that we will find the right solution.

Does the Minister have any idea how long it will take?