Ireland’s economy is changing rapidly and the world of work is very much part of that change.
Future Jobs Ireland is the cross-Government initiative tasked with preparing Ireland for tomorrow’s economy, and for tomorrow’s jobs. Many of today’s schoolchildren will be in jobs that have not yet been conceived, and these jobs of the future will be a product of advances in areas such as automation, digitisation and artificial intelligence.
It is accepted that technological advances in the digital economy will bring many changes not only to what people “work at”, but to how, where and when they work. Future Jobs Ireland points to increasing participation in the labour force as a key pillar in ensuring that we are prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the economy and workforce of the future. As the nature of work and society changes, the way we organise work will also change. Flexible working encompasses a wide range of practices including part-time, remote working, compressed hours, home-working and job sharing. These options can result in a win-win for employers, workers and society as a whole.
My Department is currently facilitating debate and consideration of one of these flexible working options, through its research into the prevalence and types of remote working arrangements within the Irish workforce, the attitudes towards such working arrangements, as well as the factors which inhibit employers and employees to partake in such arrangements. This is a deliverable under Ambition 4.2 of Future Jobs Ireland, around fostering participation in the labour force through flexible working options.
Remote working is a practice that has been associated with benefits such as greater work life balance, cost effectiveness in areas such as housing, reduced commuting times, environmental sustainability through reduced congestion and transport emissions, and enhanced productivity.
These are areas that are being explored in the remote work research being undertaken by my Department, which has included an online national employee survey, as well as engagement with key stakeholders, including employer representative bodies and remote working interest groups. This included a Remote Working Consultation Forum held on July 18th of this year, which was attended by Government Departments, State Agencies, enterprises and members of the remote working community.
Insights from these consultations will be included in the final report on Remote Work, which will outline the relevant policy implications of remote working in Ireland. The report will be completed in Q4 of this year and published soon.
On the question of transitioning to a four-day week, this is a complex area, and something that will need much discussion, research and debate among all of the key stakeholders. While I, and my Department, will participate in any such discussion, the issues at the heart of any such proposal are cross-Government responsibilities that do not fall neatly into any one Ministerial portfolio. Fora such as the annual economic dialogue with the social partners, or the Labour Employer Economic Forum, might be the appropriate fora in which to raise the issue. Moreover, as part of Future Jobs Ireland, the Minister for Justice and Equality will soon begin a public consultation on work-life balance. This presents another route for interested parties to engage.