Martina Anderson MLA invites your views on this Private Members' Bill on work-life balance (“this Bill”) which she is currently developing. The closing date for submissions is 08-04-2021.

BACKGROUND

The EU Directive on Work Life Balance was adopted by the European Council on 13th June 2019.

Given that the north of Ireland no longer automatically keeps pace with improved EU rights and standards for workers as a result of Brexit, this Bill aims to at least guarantee the entitlements included in the EU Work-Life Balance Directive for workers in the north of Ireland.

CARERS LEAVE

The 2011 Census identified that 12% of the population in the north is providing unpaid care. That number is likely to be much higher given the impact of COVID 19 on our society.

Currently in the north, workers are not entitled to statutory carers leave, they are only entitled to “time off for dependants”. This can only be used in emergencies to make “long-term care arrangements”; it cannot be taken in instances such as when a working carer needs to bring their dependent to a hospital appointment. The EU Directive provides for 5 days unpaid carers leave per year.  This bill aims to go further by introducing paid carers leave in the north of Ireland.

In the south of Ireland workers who need to provide urgent care to a family member  are entitled to three days paid leave within a 12 month period, and up to a maximum of five days in any 36-month period. This Bill will require the Minister for the Economy to review work practices impacting on carers and produce a report making new recommendations to the Assembly to enhance their rights and entitlements in the workforce.

FLEXIBLE WORKING

This Bill will extend the scope of the EU Directive on Work Life Balance by introducing the statutory right for all workers including part-time workers; fixed-term contract workers; or persons with a contract of employment or employment relationship with a temporary agency; to request flexible working.

The EU Directive as a minimum states that all workers with caring responsibilities will be afforded a right to request flexible working. The Work Life Balance Bill goes beyond that and will give all workers regardless of their status the right to request flexible working.

The Bill will remove the 26 week qualification period that is currently required for a flexible working request and instead introduce the right to request flexible working from the first day of employment and also places a legal duty on the employer to inform new employees of the flexible working arrangements currently operating in that workplace.

RIGHT TO DISCONNECT

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way many people work. During the pandemic people who work in jobs that can be carried out remotely have been asked to work from home where possible. It is likely that even after the pandemic the long term trend towards remote working will continue.

Whilst remote working, and working from home, has many potential benefits it can also give rise to exploitative practices where many workers feel themselves under immense pressure to respond to employers’ requests outside of contracted working hours.

Therefore this Bill seeks to implement a statutory “Right to Disconnect” placing a duty on every employer in consultation with their employees and where applicable their trade union representatives, to put in place a right to disconnect policy to establish the hours when employees are not supposed to send or answer work-related e-mails, texts, or calls.

Within two months of the Bill of passing the Economy Minister will be required to produce a report on the Right to Disconnect setting out a framework within which employers must implement the Right to Disconnect for their employees.

Please complete the survey below:

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* 1. Do you believe that there is currently a lack of Work-Life Balance for the workers across the Labour Market?

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* 2. Do you agree that legislation is needed to improve Work-Life Balance for workers?

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* 3. Do you agree that worker rights and entitlements should be at or above EU standards notwithstanding the implications of Brexit?

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* 4. Do you think that changing work practices as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has made the right to request flexible working and the right to disconnect a more important?

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* 5. Do you believe statutory carers leave should be paid or unpaid?

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* 6. In the south of Ireland  workers who need to provide urgent care to a family member are entitled to three days paid leave within a 12 month period, and up to a maximum of five days in any 36-month period.

Do you think carers leave entitlement should, as a minimum, be aligned across the island?

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* 7. How many paid carers leave days should be provided for?

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* 8. Who should cover the cost of the provision of paid carers leave in the north of Ireland?

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* 9. The Equality Commission’s Statement of Key Inequalities noted that carers experience unique barriers to employment, it found that carers regularly struggle to remain in employment and are often discouraged from seeking employment due to their responsibilities. It has found that carers who provide more than 20 hours of care per week[i] are less likely to be in employment and more likely to be economically inactive than those who do not provide care.

Do you believe that the absence of paid carers leave is a barrier to accessing work?

[i] http://www.equalityni.org/ECNI/media/ECNI/Publications/Delivering%20Equality/Employment-KeyInequalitiesStatement.pdf

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* 10. The EU Directive on Work Life Balance states that Carers leave should be taken in the event of “serious illness or dependency of a relative”.

Do you think carers leave should only be available for “serious illness” or “dependency of a relative”?

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* 11. Who do you think should be included in the definition of a “dependant”?

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* 12. What would be adequate “proof of serious illness or dependency of a relative”?

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* 13. Do you have any personal experience of difficulties with employment and carer responsibilities that you would like to share?

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* 14. Do you have any thoughts to further strengthen rights of workers with caring responsibilities?

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* 15. Under current legislation only employees are entitled to request their employer for flexible working arrangements such as working from home. Employees must have also worked for a qualifying period of 26 weeks before being able to request this. The current legislation  means that agency workers and others who are not technically employees have no legal right to request flexible working arrangements.

Do you think all workers should be able to ask for flexible working arrangements?

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* 16. Should the right to request flexible working arrangements begin from the first day of employment or wait for a “qualifying period” (if so how long)?

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* 17. Under current legislation, there is no legal duty on employers to inform workers of the flexible working arrangments which are already provided in their workplace and which are available to other workers. This may mean workers are unaware of such arrangments and cannot avail of these.

Should employers have a duty to tell workers of their flexible working entitlements from the first day of employment?

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* 18. The nature of working from home and working in office based settings has created an always on culture, whereby workers feel obliged to respond to office related calls and emails outside of their standard working hours. The Financial Services Union identifies this as a being a major concern for workers as it contributes to work related stress and restricts their work life balance.

Legislation has been brought forward in the rest of Ireland to give workers a statutory right to disconnect. This will mean they are not obliged to answer work related calls or emails outside of working hours.

Should workers have a right to disconnect from electronic contact (emails/phone) outside contracted hours/weekends/holidays?

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* 19. If you do NOT agree with the Bill proposal:

a)    Please outline why below.

b)    What additional measure would convince you to agree with the proposal?

c)    What alternative proposal would you support in respect of work life balance for workers?

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