FSU secures commitment to ‘right to disconnect’
Issued : 22 June 2020
FSU has been campaigning on the right to disconnect since our launch on World Mental Health day in October of last year. We ran a petition, made submissions to Government, lobbied political parties and we are delighted that a commitment to a code of practice on workers ‘right to disconnect’ is contained in the Programme for Government currently being considered by FG, FF and the Green Party.
The evidence is now overwhelming and the demand is clear. Workers are crying out, and sometimes burning out, for an ability to disconnect and switch off from work. FSU’s research by the University of Limerick, survey of over 2,000 workers, highlighted that only 7.4% of workers felt their employer were taking any measures to prevent overuse of technology for work and that 25% were expected by their employer to answer calls and emails outside of paid working hours.
Covid19 has brought this into even sharper focus with work and home life increasingly blurring into one. Our recent Covid19 survey, completed by over 4,000 workers in the sector, found that 27% said that they were working more than their contracted hours, 66% said work was more intense and 44% said there was pressure to answer emails and calls outside of hours. This is a significant increase from our previous survey.
The tendency of employers to provide smartphones for this very purpose is also on the rise with Eurostat research showing the EU average is now that 68% of employers provide mobile devices with Ireland having a higher than EU average of 78%.
The CIPD in the UK has found 15% of workers constantly monitor work emails outside work hours and another 25% check them at least five times a day with the HSE in the UK suggesting stress and burnout is resulting in 12.8 million sick days. The Mater Private, here in Ireland, has just released findings that tell us 7 in 10 are currently experiencing some form of stress at work - with 4 in 10 claiming to have suffered from 'burnout' and more worryingly 9 in 10 have claimed to have worked while sick. The Modern Families Index in the UK worryingly reported on the pressure from employers that exists to comply with 44% of parents admitting to checking emails or doing other work in the evening, with three-quarters feeling they have no choice in the matter. All of this points to an ‘always on’ work culture, facilitated by technology, that is causing significant health damage and extending the working week and working hours in an informal and unpaid way. In short, employers are sweating their workers more and in some cases into an early grave.
Work-related stress is quite clearly now the health and safety issue of this century. Ulster University, in partnership with FSU, found in one bank in Ireland that as many as 6 out of every 10 workers were suffering from poor mental health as a result of work and in particular a culture of micro-management. Eurobarometer research reported that 53% of workers across the EU viewed exposure to stress as the number one health and safety concern with 27% saying they had suffered from WRS, depression or anxiety from work in the last 12 months. In a previous contribution to Fora we made the call for our health and safety legislation to be updated to reflect this move from trips and slips style issues to mental health and work-related stress.
In this context the right to disconnect is an important protection for workers against out of hours work and even virtual presenteeism (the phenomenon of logging in to work and checking emails while sick at home).
FSU believes the code of practice from the WRC, as committed to in the programme for Government, should mandate employers to engage with trade unions to agree appropriate policies for their employment and sector which provide for the right to disconnect and appropriate overtime or on-call allowances where staff are required. This is the basis for appropriate policies to be agreed rather than a one size fits all approach that doesn’t take into consideration the business or sector. It is vital this protection is secured before further advances are made in flexible working because without this protection we will see, as research has found, issues of work intensification and stress.
Greater flexibility and remote working offer us enormous potential to suit the needs of workers, tackle congestion and climate change and commute times. The potential is great. However, we need to mitigate the dangers so we are not facing a crisis after the fact. We have, previously, called for employee-led flexibility where the workers voice and needs are central to this drive for greater flexibility of hours and location of work. As it is now, flexibility is often from an employers’ perspective where the drive really stems from a reduction of office space (rent) and a transfer of utility costs onto employees. We want the emphasis and direction to change. There are two broad international trends in this. UK type legislation offers the right to request flexible working arrangements like home working, compressed hours or varied start and end times. While the new Finnish Working Time Act provides employees the opportunity to set 50% of their hours and location of work as well as ‘bank’ hours worked over their contracted week. This Act only came into force this January so time will tell.
What is clear is that work and life is changing and employees voice needs to be front and central in this. We need to rebalance the direction of working hours and flexibility more towards the needs and rights of workers if we are to effectively tackle the work-related stress epidemic and provide a decent future of work.
If you are affected by any of these issues or have questions about how to disconnect our advice centre is on hand this Wednesday, 24th June from 12-6pm for a helpline on the right to disconnect, work intensification and work-related stress. Please call us on our freephone numbers ROI: 1800 819 191 UK: 0800 358 0071 or email us at [email protected]
Head of Industrial Relations and Campaigns