Sinn Féin TD for Longford/Westmeath, Sorca Clarke, has noted the urgent need for legislation to address the various issues pertaining to the large employee base working from home during the present pandemic.
“The past few weeks have shown how hundreds of thousands of people, who normally don’t work remotely, can do so effectively from their own homes.
“There is no doubt the benefits of this are huge - reduced traffic and emissions, less time spent commuting means more time to spend with friends and family, no need to rent expensive urban residential accommodation and more money in people’s pockets as a result.
“Although there are a host of benefits to remote working, some pitfalls have been exposed in the past few weeks and legislation needs to be put in place to regulate this area and protect employees.
“Workers cannot be left out of pocket either for hardware like laptops or printers or services required like broadband and electricity, when asked to work from home. Employers need to provide the equipment required if they want staff to work remotely.
“Data protection and the handling of sensitive information is another key issue that needs to be covered, to ensure the protection of employees, employers and third parties.
“A right to disconnect should also be incorporated into this legislation, as it is vital for people’s health and well-being to normally separate work and home life, and even more so when working from home.
“While some will be content to work some or all of their time from home, others find an office environment more appealing for a number of reasons; more conducive to their style of work, socialising with colleagues, lifestyle routine, or just simply getting out of the house.
“Workers should not be forced to work from home if this is not their preference, as this could lead to social isolation or exclusion from a unionised workplace. That’s why Sinn Féin believe it’s essential trade unions are centrally evolved in drafting legislation governing this area.
“It is clear COVID-19 is with us for the short to medium term, so the gvernment must legislate in this area once this pandemic has ended to ensure workers can sustainably work from home without facing any widespread difficulties or issues,” Deputy Clarke reiterated.
Resources For Students
Meanwhile, Deputy Clarke has called on the Minister for Education and the State Examinations Commission, Joe McHugh, to introduce an extended waiver scheme for Leaving Cert fees and to confirm that fees paid by Junior Cert students will be refunded.
“In the last few weeks, students and their families have been receiving demands for the payment of fees for both Junior Cert and Leaving Cert examinations. As the Junior Cert will not proceed in a normal manner, fees should not be charged and those who have paid these fees should receive a full refund.
“I would urge the Minister for Education to recognise that this is not a normal exam year and to take appropriate action by putting in place an extended waiver scheme with regard to examination fees for those who need it.”
Deputy Clarke is also calling on the Minister for Education to establish a dedicated support helpline and counselling service for Leaving Cert students who have been impacted by the decision to postpone this year’s exams due to COVID-19.
“The last few weeks have been incredibly difficult for most people, not least Leaving Cert students who are enduring great anxiety and stress at the moment.
“The priority at this point in time needs to be the safeguarding of students welfare and mental health, and there is a need for a dedicated helpline to provide counselling and support services to help deal with the pressures students are facing.
“I am aware that some supports are available through the National Psychological Service, but in my view we need a dedicated helpline that is resourced to provide mental health supports and also the ability to answer questions that students may have, acting as a one-stop-shop for queries.
“The Leaving Cert presents enormous challenges at the best of times, but it has been made even more daunting this year by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“That is why we need a dedicated and well-resourced counselling and mental health helpline, and I urging the Minister for Education and his Department to establish this as a matter of urgency,” Deputy Clarke. concluded.