Fórsa this week welcomed the Budget announcement of improved tax relief for heating and electricity costs that arise from home working. But the union said meeting the additional costs associated with remote working remained under discussion in talks on a long-term framework for ‘blended working’ in the public service.
The union’s general secretary, Kevin Callinan, said a successful outcome to these negotiations, which are currently underway, would be far more significant than the Budget measures in terms of realising the Government’s January 2021 Remote Working Strategy. The strategy pledged to make remote working the norm for 20% of public sector staff.
Talks on a long-term framework for blended working in the civil service got underway in late September, and an intensive programme of meetings is underway this month. Once agreement is reached, the blended working framework is expected to inform discussions in other public sector organisations.
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.
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 Budget measures announced this week will see tax relief on vouched electricity and heating costs arising from remote working increase from 10% to 30%. Relief on broadband costs is retained at 30%.
Employees can claim these reliefs if they work at home and their employer does not pay them a remote working allowance. Current rules allow employers to pay an allowance of up to €3.20 per day, with no tax liability for the employee.
Kevin Callinan said unions would be watching to see if the tax changes discourage employers from contributing towards heating and electricity costs for staff working remotely, and instead effectively pass the responsibility on to the public exchequer.
“Remote working brings benefits to employers too, and it’s not credible to expect staff to take on significant costs that are currently borne by their employers, particularly when fuel costs are spiking as we enter the colder months.
“But our 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,” he said.
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