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Remote working, new employment laws and pay claims – the world of work in 2022

The Covid pandemic led to a reimagining of the concept of work.

Forced to stay at home, employees and businesses quickly realised that tasks they had always performed in-person or on-site could be done remotely.

Staff who sat in traffic and sat at a desk in an office building all their working lives saw that they could carry out their jobs from their kitchen tables, spare bedrooms or local remote working hubs.

As the final Covid restrictions were lifted in early 2022, some businesses decided it was time to return to the office but many workers were reluctant to do so.

Remote Working

In early 2022, the then tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Leo Varadkar announced the draft details of the “Right to Request Remote Working Bill’.

The legislation was designed to give employees the right to request remote working.

It also provided for 13 specific grounds upon which an employer could refuse a request and this proved to be controversial.

Unions said the bill was stacked in favour of the employer when it came to grounds for refusal and grounds for appeal.

Employers questioned the need for the legislation and warned that it may result in additional administrative burdens for businesses.

In November, the Government announced that rather than passing a separate piece of legislation, the law would be included in the ‘Work Life Balance’ Bill.

It means that employers and employees will now be making and considering requests for flexible or remote working under one law and one code of practice to be developed by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The 13 grounds for refusal will be replaced by an obligation on the employer to consider both their needs and the needs of employees when assessing a request.

Employers will also be required to have regard to the new code of practice and a complaint can be taken to the Workplace Relations Commission where an employer has not complied with the code.

Tips, sick pay and the living wage

Remote working was not the only area of employment that saw changes to legislation in 2022.

New laws governing the practice of tipping came into force on 1 December.

Under the Payment of Wages Act, employees now have a legal entitlement to receive tips and gratuities paid in electronic form.

The new law requires that this money should be paid to workers in a manner that is fair and makes it illegal for tips, gratuities, and service charges to make up part of an employee’s basic wages.

The rules also require that any charge called a “service charge” will have to be distributed to staff as if it were a tip or gratuity received by electronic means.

In November, commencement orders for new sick leave entitlements were signed.

From January, workers will be entitled to up to three days of sick leave in a year, paid at 70% of gross salary up to a cap of €110.

The entitlement is expected to increase to 10 days sick leave a year by 2026.

Dr Laura Bambrick, Head of Social Policy and Employment Affairs at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), says the new sick pay legislation brings Irish employment law in line with the rest of Europe.

“Some will argue that this new workers’ right will bankrupt small businesses and that workers cannot be trusted to not abuse sick leave but these claims are baseless,” Dr Bambrick said.

“Because sick pay has long been a workers’ right in almost every EU country and the UK we know how it will work when it is rolled out,” she said.

“There is no evidence of businesses closing down under the strain or widespread abuse by workers,” she added.

In November, the Government agreed to the introduction of a new national “living wage” to replace the minimum wage by 2026.

It will be phased in over a four-year period starting next year and will be set at 60% of the hourly median wage.

In 2023, it is estimated that 60% of median earnings would equate to approximately €13.10 per hour.

The minimum wage will increase by 80 cent from 1 January 2023 to €11.30 per hour.

In October, the Government approved details of a new pension auto-enrolment scheme ahead of its expected introduction in 2024.

Workers will be automatically signed up to a pension plan co-funded by their employer and the State but they can opt out if they wish to leave.

Pay claims

Soaring inflation led to pay claims across the public and private sector throughout 2022.

In March, unions requested a review of the public sector pay deal “Building Momentum”.

It would be several months before a revised deal was agreed – negotiators emerged from the Workplace Relations Commission in the early hours of 30 August following overnight talks.

The agreement will see public sector workers receive an increase of 6.5% across 2022 and 2023.

Cost-of-living pay increases were also agreed across banking, retail and public transport avoiding the industrial unrest witnessed in the UK.

There were some strikes in 2022.

Workers in the community and voluntary sector took to the picket lines demanding better pay and conditions.

Tens of thousands of medical procedures and appointments were cancelled in May due to strike action by medical scientists.

The action was taken over long-standing pay and career development issues.

Collective bargaining

The trade union movement received a boost in October with the publication by the Government of the final report of a high-level working group that was set up to review collective bargaining and the industrial relations landscape in Ireland.

The report recommended that there be “good faith engagement” between employers and unions.

Under the proposal, if a union represents 10% or more of a grade, group or category within a company, the employer will be obliged to engage in good faith with the union and can been ordered to do so by the Circuit Court.

The report also recommended the strengthening of Joint Labour Committees (JLCs), independent bodies made up of equal numbers of employer and worker representatives that set employment conditions and minimum rates of pay for workers in certain sectors.

The report came ahead of a new EU directive which will require member states to facilitate much greater collective bargaining.

What does 2023 have in store?

There was, for the most part, industrial peace in 2022 with pay claims agreed and disputes settled.

Public sector unions will be back around the talks table with the Government in the coming months ahead of the expiration of the current pay deal at the end of 2023.

The global economic slowdown and fears of recession here mean the national finances may be in a less healthy position and reaching the next public sector pay deal could be a far more difficult task.

If 2022 was the year of introducing new employment laws, 2023 will be the year in which they are tested.

Expect cases before the Workplace Relations Commission and the courts relating to sick leave entitlements, denied requests for remote working and refusals to deal with trade unions.

Coming against a more challenging financial backdrop for companies, placards, pickets and chants by striking workers could become a more common sight in 2023.

Article Source: Headline – Brian O’Donovan – RTE

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