The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has strongly defended the Government's proposals to boost remote working, and has hit out at calls for the right to disconnect from work to be scrapped. 

In a post on the Congress website, General Secretary Patricia King takes issues with a recent article in the Irish Times by the Head of Employment Law at Mason Hayes and Curran Melanie Crowley, in which the author said government proposals to give workers the right to disconnect could damage international competitiveness. 

In the article, Ms Crowley claimed the balance between employment rights and international competiveness had gone "badly askew" in the government's recently published National Remote Work Strategy, which proposes legislation giving workers the right to request remote working, and a Code of Practice governing the right to disconnect to avoid open-ended working hours. 

Ms Crowley argued there was a "disconnect" between flexible/remote working and the right to disconnect - as employees might not be able to spend time with their children in the afternoon if they were not allowed to log on to work again after they had gone to bed. 

While some workers did need protection, she argued, a "one-size-fits-all" approach was not appropriate. 

The Mason Hayes and Curran solicitor claimed that Ireland has attracted far more than our share of high paying jobs partly because we have less restrictive labour laws than many large EU states - and that many companies considering investment here focused on the extent and nature of unionisation and what restrictions exist on work practices. 

She slated the Organisation of Working Time Act which limits the number of hours to an average of 48 hours per week  as "outdated", because it made no distinction between production operators and CEOs. 

She called for a radical overhaul of working time legislation - with workers earning above a certain income level to be allowed to  "bargain freely", and the cap on weekly working hours removed. 

However, today Congress General Secretary Patricia King described Ms Crowley's position as "conservative, reactionary and outdated". 

She said the pandemic had clearly demonstrated that a successful workplace is one where there is decent work with good collaboration between the employer and employees on working culture and conditions.

"'Always on' does not mean productive," she noted. 

She accused Ms Crowley of under-estimating many multi-national firms when she suggested that those considering investing here would bolt if they heard about regulations protecting Irish workers. 

Ms. King said the workers' rights emanating from European working time legislation remain relevant right across the EU - and described the legislation as a vital legal protection for workers "irrespective of flexibility, role, title or pay".

She accused Ms Crowley of advocating an "always on" culture so that bosses can text email or call at any time of the day or night - and described the "right to disconnect" as a very progressive and flexible workplace tool.

She also criticised Ms Crowley's highlighting of UK optouts on employment rights legislation.

Ms King said the pandemic had created the space to make work fairer, and noted that in the future, flexible options like remote and blended work should be available to workers.

"Having endured lectures on the need for economic restraint and sacrifices from the likes of Davy (self-styled experts in "Wealth management") we are now expected to facilitate a race to the bottom so that Ireland can be more attractive to companies wishing to invest in countries where it is easier and cheaper to exploit labour," Ms. King concluded.