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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar pushing for early return to offices in August

Tánaiste will urge Nphet to consider plans for workers back at desks a month earlier


Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Julien Behal

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Julien Behal

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Julien Behal

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is urging a return to the office in August, a month earlier than currently planned.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment wants to see people returning to their desks within weeks, even if remote and blended working are to become a much bigger feature of life after Covid.

The Irish Independent can reveal that he now is asking Nphet to consider a phased return to offices in August, rather than September.

Mr Varadkar believes that beginning to plan for this return to the office now, rather than in several weeks’ time, will be advantageous.

He would like to see office workers settled into the new routine before the rush of schools and colleges returns.

“At the moment, we are planning a phased return to offices and workplaces from September,” the Tánaiste said.

“Provided the vaccine programme continues to gather pace and the virus remains under control, I believe August makes more sense than September.”

Schools will return in September, as will colleges, and public transport could become quite crowded again, he noted.

“I think it makes sense to begin the return to the office before that – in August. By then, the vast majority of adults will be fully vaccinated and the risk of them getting very sick from the virus will be very low.”

He was speaking as the hospitality trade celebrated a major milestone in allowing outdoor service to return. This meant an estimated 25,000 people returning to work.

Now the Tánaiste wants planning to get under way to see a speedier return to the office environment over the course of the summer.

However, Mr Varadkar emphasised he was not seeking a mass return of office environments in one fell swoop.

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“I think it should be done on a phased basis with a return first of meetings, training and induction for new staff – many of whom have yet to meet their co-workers or even visit their office,” the Fine Gael leader said.

“I don’t believe workplaces are ever going to be the same after the pandemic. Many people will never return to the office full-time now that we know that home working and remote working is a viable option for most people.

“I think we are going to move to a model of blended working as the new normal and the Government will be working to facilitate that with our code of practice on the right to disconnect.

“We are also working to provide a network of remote working hubs now being built, and our new law that means employers have to give good reason for refusing a worker the opportunity for remote working.”

He added, however, that while some workers had found home working advantageous, others were losing out on interacting with colleagues or were struggling to find a suitable work space at home.

“Although we will be encouraging employers to keep remote working as a permanent option, where possible, I know some staff, particularly younger ones, have found it difficult – especially those working from home from small apartments or houses they share with others.

“While for some it’s been a pleasant experience being able to avoid the commute and have more time for family, for others it has been isolating or stressful trying to work from home and home schooling at the same time.”

The Tánaiste’s comments will surprise many, but are consistent with the Government’s five-level plan, which provides for a return to workplace meetings, training and induction at Level 2 and a staggered attendance at Level 1.

“With August now only eight weeks away, I think now is a good time to begin the conversation between employers and employees on how this can be managed,” Mr Varadkar said.

“My department will lead on this.

"Among the things that have to be considered are the use of antigen testing, better ventilation, spacing out work stations, cleaning schedules, and avoiding congregation in the break rooms and elevators among other issues.”

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