The Government is to publish a new strategy on remote working before the end of the year, which will include proposals for a country-wide network of digital hubs, as well as new tax and expense arrangements.

Speaking during a Dáil debate on a Labour Private Members' Bill aimed at enhancing protections for employees who are working remotely, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar said it was essential that the costs of working from home were borne in a fair way.

He also pledged to bring forward proposals on the right to disconnect, to avoid an "always on" culture where workers are expected to respond to calls and emails outside their normal working hours.

The Government is also considering establishing a right to request to work remotely, which would have to be considered by the employer.

Mr Varadkar said the Government wanted remote working, home working and blended working to become part of the "new normal".

He adding that if done right, the benefits could be huge in terms of reduced business costs, less traffic, and fewer emissions.

He said surveys indicated 10-20% of workers were keen to return to the office, another 10-20% wanted to work from home permanently, while the remainder wanted to see a blended situation.

He told the Dáil that overuse of digital devices were linked to stress, burnout, sleeplessness and strained relationships.

The Tánaiste acknowledged that some legislation would require amendment, including the Organisation of Working Time Act (which governs working time) and other health and safety legislation. 

The Workplace Relations Commission is also to examine a potential new code of practice or guidelines for employers and their staff on rights and entitlements in this area.

However, Mr Varadkar cautioned that any changes would need to "strike a balance", and be based on consultation between employers and employees.

He cited the requirement for flexibility where an employee worked for a company with operations across multiple time zones or where working parents wanted to log out during the day for family reasons, and log back in the evening when it was convenient.

He also noted the requirement for flexibility for companies.

"The challenge perhaps lies in differentiating between the misuse and abuse of digital tools and legitimate working arrangements that permit connections outside of standard working hours, which is sometimes for the employee's convenience as much as it is for the business's productivity."

The Tánaiste said he would be meeting employer and employee representatives this afternoon at the Labour Employer Economic Forum to discuss the matter further.

He confirmed that the Government would not be opposing the Labour bill today.

Minister of State Damien English stressed the need to take care with any proposed legislation to avoid "unintended consequences" - adding that a "one size fits all" approach to remote working and the right to disconnect might not be appropriate.

He said there were issues with the Labour bill, but he was happy to tease through them.

He acknowledged the benefits of remote working, but said it must be operated in a planned way.

Many opposition TDs cited the lack of broadband as a key obstacle to remote working - particularly in rural areas.

Mr. English noted that many of those speakers had been opposed to the government signing up to the deal for the National Broadband Plan.

Opening the debate on the bill, Labour leader Alan Kelly noted that the number of people working from home has trebled due to the pandemic, rising from 200,000 at the start of the year, to over 700,000 now.

He described this as the greatest shift in working arrangements in a single year in Irish history, but warned that current legislation governing remote working was a "dog's dinner", which was either "outdated, unworkable or non-existent".

He noted that under the law as it stands, employers are effectively required to inspect the homes of their employees to ensure the premises is suitable for remote working.

"This is a ludicrous requirement, and one which cannot be enforced", he said.

He told the Dáil that the legislation would introduce the right to switch off from work, while employers would be obliged to provide the necessary equipment, as well as covering additional costs incurred by people working remotely.

He said this would be particularly important for lower paid workers, and those living in rented accommodation.

He described higher levels of connectivity enabled by technological advances as a "double-edged sword".