Thursday, 28 November 2019

Ceisteanna (13)

Paul Murphy


13. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will include a four day working week without loss of pay as a measure to significantly reduce emissions in the future climate action plans of his Department. [49324/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Communications)

I am interested in hearing the Minister's views on the introduction of a four-day working week without loss of pay as a measure to substantially reduce carbon emissions. This is a measure that is included in the UK Labour Party manifesto. There are varying estimates regarding what level of carbon savings would be made, including one of 16%. This measure forms part of our green new deal with socialist policies, which precisely illustrates how we can stop climate catastrophe and dramatically improve people's lives.

I thank the Deputy for the question.

The focus of the climate action plan is on the sectors generating the major greenhouse gas emissions. These are agriculture, power generation, the energy use of buildings, transport, industrial processes and resource-use by all sectors. The plan has identified the policies that can deliver change at least cost and offering most opportunity. More flexible work patterns can be a part of the strategy which individual bodies can consider as part of a climate plan, such as through remote working. The plan encourages public bodies and enterprise to consider the actions which can assist. The Government is committed through Future Jobs Ireland to developing and implementing a range of measures aimed at making participation in the workforce more flexible and, therefore, easing barriers to entry into the workforce. This includes measures aimed at intelligent working arrangements, such as the development of guidelines for employers on flexible working options; child care provision; reducing disincentives for those who wish to work longer; and targeting certain cohorts through the public employment service

The climate action plan recognises that the implementation of the national planning framework will help to underpin these measures by promoting development involving reduced travel distances and greater proximity to employment and services, which will enable a greater proportion of journeys by means of active travel. The successful roll-out of the national broadband plan will also stimulate remote working opportunities and increase the creation of local employment opportunities, which allows more people to work closer to their homes, reducing the emissions associated with longer commuter journeys.

Policy matters in regard to working hours falls under the remit of the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

I asked the Minister to comment on proposals to reduce the working week to four days. I would argue that that should be combined with no loss of pay such that people are not harmed. This is part of a green new deal vision for transforming our society, avoiding climate catastrophe and giving people time to contribute to society, taking advantage of massive productivity increases the benefits of which overwhelmingly go to the bosses and the capitalists.

There is a trade union campaign in Ireland for a four-day working week. It refers to the study in Sweden that shows that for every 1% reduction in working hours, energy consumption and emissions are reduced by 0.8%. If that was translated to Ireland and we worked to a four day working week, emissions could be reduced by 16%. Various studies show clear benefits in productivity, mental health and workers being happy and contributing at work and in society. It would benefit workers in this country.

A four-day working week without loss of pay raises far wider issues than climate. I am happy to look at evidence of any policy initiative and its impact on climate. If there is data, I will examine it. Clearly, things such as remote working which reduce people's use of public transport is a way of doing the same. If people work one day from home, they will get much of the savings. Every year, we will review policy proposals that are submitted. We rely on the advice of the Climate Advisory Council to evaluate some of those policies. It depends on what happens when a person is not working and if output is the same will there be a saving of carbon emissions. Many other accompanying policies would have to be put in place to see whether such an initiative would have a significant impact. In the short term we must work on the fabric of our buildings, on the make-up of our transport fleets and the shape of our generation capacity. Those are the big items we must shift.

There was a time when workers worked seven days a week, working six full days and a half day on Sunday. It was a gain by the labour movement to get rid of the Sunday and eventually the Saturday. Effectively since that time working hours have remained quite stable as each productivity gain delivered by workers has been gobbled up in the form of profits. I agree that this goes beyond climate change, there is no question of that; it goes to the question of the kind of society that we want to have, what we want to spend wealth on and whether we wish to continue merely to boost the profits of big multinational corporations or to improve people's lives and take significant action to reduce carbon emissions. The demand for this will grow and grow. The trade union campaign on this is building. The research in Britain showed that workers were ill less often, less stressed, happier, more productive, developed their skills, travelled less and it attracted workers into the industries where four-day weeks applied. As part of a vision for a socialist society where people participate, a participatory democracy, freeing up time for people to be able to participate in their communities and workplaces to have democratic control is important.

The Deputy is articulating a position which is a valid aspiration, however what I have been asked to do is ensure that our power generation shifts to renewable sources, that our buildings are more energy efficient and that our industrial processes are less carbon intensive and that we change the shape of our transport system. I must focus on those as they are the areas that will deliver a shift in the dial of carbon emissions. The Deputy will recognise that what he raises is a much wider issue for Irish society to consider. I must focus on my own work.