Irish companies told they can’t participate in pilot four-day working week scheme if they reduce pay

Stock image

Amy Molloy

IRISH companies which asked to participate in a four-day working week pilot scheme on the basis that they could also reduce pay were told they could not take part.

Up to 20 businesses from the tech, engineering and manufacturing sectors have so far signed up for the six-month pilot due to run from February next year.

Activist Joe O’Connor, chairperson of the campaign group Four Day Week Ireland, said some companies wanted to take part but were not allowed to do so as they were looking to lower pay or introduce four 10-hour days.

Speaking at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) biennial conference in Belfast, Mr O’Connor said reducing pay and increasing hours is “not what the scheme is about”.

The Indo Daily: Home or Office – what the easing of restrictions means for you and your job

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Spotify

“It’s about working smarter rather than longer,” he said.

“At the moment, all the companies that have signed up are from the private sector but it is vitally important there is public sector participation going forward.”

Mr O’Connor said the experience of remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic “should make it easier” for companies to introduce a four-day week as they have become “more open-minded” and learned how to adapt to blended working.

Employee wellbeing and the impact of the pandemic on workers were two prevalent issues at the conference.

Delegates were told how staff across various sectors are experiencing burnout, stress and facing additional workloads.

The Financial Services Union (FSU) said bank staff in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were made “surplus to requirements” during the pandemic. It accused banks of being “totally opportunistic” by using Covid to reduce access to banking services for hundreds of thousands of citizens.

Remote working is due to be discussed next, with the Guinness Staff Union (GSU) urging the Government to address the issue of workers’ rights in the new digital age.

The GSU said many working from home are “experiencing high levels of anxiety, personal challenges, conflicting priorities and economic strains” due to being online for longer hours, with the “lines between work and personal life being blurred”.

There were also calls to improve working conditions for women.

Women have been “disproportionately impacted by the pandemic”, with many forced to work longer hours to balance their jobs and home responsibilities, according to Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alison Gilliland.

“Many women faced life and death, day in, day out, on our hospital frontlines,” she said. “Many working from home ended up working longer hours, juggling work and home responsibilities or reducing working hours or giving up or forgoing further education or training opportunities to look after children and elderly family matters.”

She added: “We saw levels of domestic and gender-based violence against women increase.

"We also witnessed the lack of women’s voices and perspectives around the national decision-making table – at one stage in the lessening of restrictions you could go play golf but you couldn’t get your child’s foot measured for shoes.”

The Labour Party councillor said the trade union movement will be essential in ensuring parity and equality for women.

She called for work addressing the gender pay gap to be implemented across all sectors and workplaces “so all women benefit”.

Later in the conference, the newly elected president of Ictu called for increased taxes on wealth to improve public services, saying the tax burden is falling “too heavily on incomes”.

Kevin Callinan also called for an expansion of employer PRSI contributions.

Mr Callinan, who is general secretary of union Fórsa, said employer contributions in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland were way below the norm in other advanced European nations, which is leading to a shortfall in investment in public services.

He told delegates that Ictu’s ‘No Going Back’ programme set out a vision for a “high skills, high productivity” post-Covid economy that provides secure, well-paid work, a “European-standard social wage”, decent pensions and a strong safety net for those unable to work.

“Right now we spend far less on public services and infrastructure than similar European countries. Almost €3,500 less per person each year in the Republic, a total of over €17bn in 2019 alone,” he said.

“The entire public spending gap between Ireland and its nearest EU neighbours matches, almost exactly, the shortfall in employer social contributions.

“That’s why our vision of decent public services, worthy of a wealthy European nation, would be funded by an expansion of employer contributions, increased tax on wealth rather than just incomes, and meaningful financial deterrence for environmentally damaging activities.”

Delegates from both sides of the border are taking part in a wide range of debates and votes on 47 motions and five amendments.

Some of the main issues on the agenda for the second day include housing, climate change, bogus employment contracts and public policy lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic.