Place of work and working conditions – Ireland

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 30 May 2007

Herbert Mulligan

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

The information available on the incidence of workers working away from the place of work is limited. Research in the area has tended to focus on teleworking or home working, but workers from a wide range of occupations work away from the workplace. The most comprehensive study in Ireland on workers working away from the place of work is a report by the Central Statistics Office on teleworking. While a number of undertakings have as employers taken initiatives and the Irish Government has in relation to work-life balance, promoted awareness of the benefits of such policies, surveys suggest that employers have been slow to adopt work life balance policies. The overall conclusion must be that more research, which should be based on a wide ranging definition of working away from the workplace, is needed.

1. Incidence of working away from the place of work

Often the concept of working away from the place of work is considered in the context of home working or teleworking. Such a definition of working away from the place of work is unfortunately limited and could exclude many who work away from the place of work: such as journalists, salespersons, service technicians and those in the transport sector such as heavy goods vehicle drivers.

Bearing this qualification in mind, the most comprehensive survey of the numbers working away from the place of work in Ireland was published by the Central Statistics Office in February 2003. The Quarterly National Household Survey Module on Teleworking found that nearly 10% (148,100) of persons in non-agricultural employment work away from home to some extent and almost 60,000 of them used a computer with a telecommunications link. Of the latter 60,000 38,700 were home-based teleworkers.

The survey found that as a percentage of those in employment 6.3% of managers/administrators, 5.5% of professionals, 4.4% of associate professionals/technical workers, and 1.3% of clerical and secretarial workers were teleworkers.

The incidence of teleworking as a percentage of those working in different sectors was:

• Production industries 1.9%

• Construction 1.5%

• Wholesale/retail 1.4%

• Hotels/restaurants 1%

• Transport/storage/communications 1.7%

• Financial and other services 6.8%

• Public administration and defence 1.1%

• Education 2.6%

• Health 0.8%.

The survey found that 20.3% of teleworkers worked in their own homes, 3.7% in buildings on the same grounds as their homes, and 2.4% in different places using home as a base.

Since the survey, which was based on the numbers working in quarter three 2002 (the months of August, September, October) was published, the Irish working population has grown, with 1,814,700 now employed in non-agricultural work. This suggests that there would be at least 181,470 teleworkers in Ireland now (December 2006).

A more recent survey, carried out by the market research company TNS for the mobile phone company 02 and which would not be as comprehensive, found that one-third of owner managers ands senior executive in small and medium sized Irish enterprises work from home at least one day month, while one in twelve telework more than four days a month. Another survey, carried out by Amarch Consulting for the mobile phone company Vodaphone, which examined the communications work needs of those working away from the place of work for more than 20% of their time, found that improved mobile telecommunications could boost Irish GNP by €3.5bn.

2. Health and safety

The Irish Government Agency charged with promoting awareness of occupational safety and health and enforcing occupational safety and health regulations, the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) is the prime source for health and safety statistical information.

Each year the HSA publishes a summary of fatality, injury and illness statistics. In 2005 the HSA published a report – Health and Safety at Work in Ireland 1992-2002 – which presented a ten-year review of the trends in occupational injuries and illnesses in Ireland. The report found that Ireland had the second highest level of workers in the EU (the old 15 member states) who sometimes or always worked at home. Beyond that the report made no reference to workers working away from the workplace. Nor does the HSA annual statistical report Summary of Fatality, Injury & Illness Statistics 2004-2005 deal with the issue.

It is therefore difficult to offer conclusions on health and safety issues in relation to people working away from company premises.

However the fact that these issues are not covered in official statistics does not mean that the issues of working away from the company workplace are not a concern in Ireland. One specific issue mentioned in the questionnaire, that of transport/commuting, has been raised.

Addressing a meeting of the International Labour Inspectors Association, Sylvester Cronin, who is the health and safety advisor to Ireland’s largest trade union, SIPTU, quoting from a paper presented by Professor Ray Fuller of Trinity College Dublin to a Nifast-organised seminar, in which Professor Fuller said that about one-third of all traffic accidents are work-related., Cronin suggested that with over 370 people dying in road traffic accidents in a year, as many as 120 of them could be work-related. By definition people driving for a living are working away from the company premises.

Cronin’s call to make work-related driving accidents an occupational health and safety issue was unintentionally boosted by the recently appointed director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, who told delegates attending the annual conference of the National Irish Safety Organisation last October that about 50,000 road accident fatalities in Europe each year are work-related (Health & Safety Review, Volume 10, Issue 9, 2006). Speaking at the same conference, the chief executive of the Irish Road Safety Authority, Noel Brett, said “If a work-related vehicle is involved in a collision, that is a workplace accident”.

At undertaking level the issues related to working away from the workplace are on organisations’ health and safety agendas. Dublin City Council, which is the largest local authority in Ireland employing over 6,000 people recently published a Drivers’ Handbook. The book provides detail guidance on health and safety issues for the drivers of the City Council’s fleet of 1,300 vehicles.

Another issue affecting workers working away from company premises – lone working – was also addressed by Dublin City Council, when in 2001 they published a lone worker’s health and safety policy. Among the examples given are policies when work involves visiting other people’s home, visiting other people’s premises by prior arrangement or without such an arrangement, traveling by car or bus, working at an isolated office.

Another organisation which has been to the forefront in developing policies for workers working away from the company premises is the Electricity Supply Board. The board has developed policies to ensure workers working at remote locations complete task checklists before commencing work.

3. Work organisation

The CSO Quarterly National Household Survey Quarter 2 2004 examined the issue of work organisation in the context of working time.

The survey found that over 10% of employees (152,000 employees) worked overtime. While the survey did not address the issues posed in this section of this report, the CSO found that employees in public administration and defence, agriculture, forestry and fishing, in hotels and restaurants and in transport/storage/communications were likely to be in a position to vary their starting and finishing time. Many workers in these sectors, with the exception of the hotel/restaurant sector, are likely to work away from the company premises. However there are no figures to indicate what percentage.

The survey also found that self-employed persons have autonomy over their working and working patterns. A high proportion of those working in the agriculture/forestry/fishing sector and the transport sector are self-employed.

However there is no data available to show to what extent workers in these sectors or other sectors, when they work away from the company premises, are subject to supervision or are autonomous. Indeed with the development of tracking technologies it may be that workers in, say transport, public sector or communications sectors, are now more closely supervised that was historically the case. Though it may seem a ludicrous example, the road ganger featured in the famous novel by John Buchan, The 39 Steps (set in Scotland but with similar working conditions to Ireland of the time), which was set in the pre-First World War period and whose work was inspected on a weekly basis, would now be subject to more regular inspection visits and mobile communications contact.

In terms of social support, many organisations whose workers work away from the workplace organise work in such a manner as to ensure that these workers attend the workplace periodically.

4. Working time and work/life balance

The main focus of this question is defined in terms of workers who work from home and rightly identifies the issue of work-life balance as a significant issue for homeworkers, who may often be teleworkers.

Taking the figures from the Central Statistics Office in February 2003 Quarterly National Household Survey Module on Teleworking 10% of the non-agricultural working population work from home to some extend, which suggests that managing the working time and work-life balance of these workers is a significant social issue. The issue is widely recognised in Ireland.

The website introduces the reader to a number of initiatives taken by the Irish Government to promote awareness of the issues surrounding work-life balance. According to the website family friendly or work-life balance working arrangements are regulations by a number of legislative enactments, including the Organisation of Working Time Act, various acts and regulations relating to maternity, paternity, adoptive and carer’s leave.

In 2002 the Government funded National Committee for Work Life Balance awarded funding to a number of organisations with the aim of promoting projects which could be transposed to other organisations. These included e-working pilot programmes and stress management programmes. Among the benefits revealed by the programmes are, according to the website, increased staff loyalty, improved productivity and retention of key staff. The projects revealed an unexpected advantage: the introduction of home working for a group of pilot employees lead to the employees being able to use the technology while travelling.

However, while there is strong Government and employer/employee representative organisational support for the concept of work-life balance, two surveys suggest on the ground support for the concept is less tangible.

A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPDI) sponsored survey, carried out by Mercer Consulting in 2002 among 104 major employer organisations employing 124,000 people that while there was increasing interest in work-life balance, it was not among the top five priorities of those organisations human resource managers. A more recent survey, carried out by EAP Solutions, found 80% of companies surveyed had taken no work-life balance initiatives. The survey found that only 3% of companies’ annual budgets provided for spending on work-life balance initiatives.

A survey carried out by the recruitment website, the results of which were unveiled at the Industrial Relations News annual conference 2005; found that 35% of employees would agree to a drop in income in return for shorter working hours but that only 30% of employees believed their employers offered flexible working conditions. However 44% stated they had achieved a good work-life balance, but 42% stated they had not.

Another survey – Off the Treadmill: Achieving Work/Life Balance – linked the issues of working time to work-life balance. A survey, written by Dr Eileen Drew and other and published by the Institute of Public Administration found the treadmill effect of a pervasive long hours working culture militated against work-life balance.

None of these or other studies, concerning work-life balance, deal with the core subject of this comparative analytic report: employees working away from company premises.

5. Views of the national centre

The questions posed for the CAR (comparative analytical report) reveal that while there is some information available on the issues of employees working away from company premises in Ireland there are large gaps in the information available.

The conclusion to be drawn is that further research is needed. However if further research is to be undertaken those commissioning research should be careful to draw-up a wide definition of working away from company premises. Such work is not limited to teleworkers or homeworkers: it includes transport workers, fishermen, fire fighters, journalists and a wide range of workers from other occupations.

Herbert Mulligan, IRN

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