Talks on a long-term framework for ‘blended working’ in the civil service got underway last Friday (24th September) and intensified this week. The aim is to agree a long-term framework for managing remote working, which will supersede arrangements put in place during the pandemic.
Once agreement is reached in the civil service, the ‘blended working’ framework is expected to inform discussions across the public service including health, local authorities and education. With this in mind, the current talks will aim to agree a framework capable of being rolled-out across the public service, rather than being confined to central Government departments and agencies.
Speaking after the initial plenary meeting, Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan said the negotiation would be hugely significant for both the public service and the wider economy.
“This is important in terms of how the public service emerges from the pandemic, when it delivered massively for the citizens of Ireland. But it’s also an unmissable opportunity for the public sector to show leadership on new forms of work organisation, drawing on the lessons of the last 18 months,” he said.
The head of Fórsa’s Civil Service Division, Derek Mullen, is leading the union side in the talks, which are taking place within the civil service industrial relations set-up. Speaking after the first meeting, he said the unions wanted to build on the best of the pandemic experience.
“There is a huge interest in this coming out of the unique circumstances of the pandemic, which has given us a wealth of experience of what’s possible. The union wants to do something transformational, rather than be restricted to the lowest common denominator achievable in the public sector,” he said.
A Government ‘Blended Working Policy Statement,’ published in July, said the civil service would switch from pandemic-related remote working provisions to long-term blended working arrangements between September 2021 and March 2022.
But Fórsa has told senior Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) officials that the civil service talks must conclude quickly to allow discussions to take place in other sectors in time for agreed policies to be in place by next spring. Management has agreed that this is the best approach.
The union’s priority is to ensure that objective and transparent criteria are established to determine which roles are suitable for remote working, and that these are applied fairly when people seek blended working arrangements. Fórsa is also seeking a range of worker protections on health and safety, mental health, work-life balance, privacy and access to flexitime and career opportunities.
Meanwhile, a group of four large private sector companies has established a ‘remote working alliance.’ Vodafone, ESB, eBay and Liberty Insurance say the initiative aims to “lead the way for other Irish employers to commit to long-term remote working.”
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