News & Media

Right to Disconnect still needed in law as Code of Practice is guidance

1 April 2021

Statement by Senator Marie Sherlock
Seanad Whip and Spokesperson on Employment Affairs, Media, Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht
  • Code of Practice doesn’t provide a legal right to disconnect, just guidance
  • Labour Bill would enshrine legal right to switch off following best practice in other EU States
  • Working from Home (Covid-19) Bill would address the issue of unsuitable home working spaces for employees

The Code of Practice on the right to disconnect is a step in the right direction to changing workplace culture said Labour employment affairs spokesperson Marie Sherlock but cautioned that it will not address exploitation experienced by many workers, particularly young professionals and that a right to disconnect in law is still needed.

Sherlock said there is now an opportunity for the Government to go the full way for workers and progress Labour’s Working from Home (Covid-19) Bill 2020 which will give workers a right to switch off in law, and would require employers to provide a suitable home workstation and flat rate payment to cover the costs now shouldered by workers.

Senator Sherlock said:

“It’s good that the Government recognise that the always on culture is a problem, a year into the pandemic and five months after we first introduced legislation to address this growing issue. For some the overnight shift to home working has offered freedom and flexibility to make their work life balance work for them but we continue to be overwhelmed with stories of young professionals in particular whose employers are exploiting the current situation to embed an ‘always on’ culture in workforces.

“It is important to remember that the Code of Practice is a written guidance to employers but doesn’t create new rights. A law like that proposed by the Labour Party would however provide that right. The Code of Practice is a guideline for employers and employees setting out best practice in the workplace. It fails to consider the nuances of modern working life and that every worker has differing working hours and experiences shows that it is notoriously difficult to bring a case to the Workplace Relations Commission or Labour Court under the Organisation of Working Time Act.

“I am also concerned by the tone of some of the commentary this morning that characterises such a move as making working life more restrictive. For example there’s already confusion this morning that "children cannot be collected from school", or that this imposes overbearing restrictions on workers. Our Bill applies nuance to the situation – so, I can go for my swim at noon and work an hour later in the evening and “out of hours” doesn’t arise. However if I’m asked to work over and above my contractual 8 hours, I am either paid overtime or the right to disconnect needs to kick in.

“The whole purpose of the Labour legislation is to stop the exploitation of workers and the blurring of lines between work and home caused by technology and exacerbated by the pandemic. Not diminish the new found flexibility that remote working has brought us all. The problem with any Code of Practice is it’s a blunt tool – it’s too black and white.

“The ‘always on’ problem arises because of exploitation and culture. This Code is a start in the right direction in tackling culture, but it won’t prevent exploitation. Our Bill would update our laws and put clear protections in place, following best practice in countries like France, Spain, Italy and Belgium. In addition, the Labour Party Bill would ensure that remote workers have a fair chance, requiring employers to provide a suitable home workstation and flat rate payment to cover the costs now shouldered by workers. We must put in place a legal right to switch off to end any blurring of the lines.”

ENDS

A copy of the bill is available here: https://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/working_from_home_bill.pdf