Public Policy Bulletin, 15 January 2021

Jan 14, 2021

 

In this week’s Public Policy news, read about Ireland’s first National Remote Work Strategy to make remote working a permanent option for life after the pandemic, the increase to Ireland’s National Minimum Wage and the publication of the Spring Legislative Programme. Also covered is the anticipated economic impact of the new health restrictions in the UK and the ambitious biodiversity commitment and new sustainable finance charter at the One Planet Summit.

Ireland’s first National Remote Work Strategy publishes

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, has published Ireland’s first National Remote Work Strategy to make remote working a permanent option. The Strategy sets out plans to strengthen the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, and to provide the infrastructure and guidance on how people can be empowered to work remotely. 

The statement issued today promised legislation to provide employees the right to request remote working, a legally admissible code of practice on the right to disconnect from work, and investment in remote work hubs. It also mentioned the potential acceleration of the National Broadband Plan, a review of the treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure in the next Budget, and a “lead by example” mandate that home and remote working should be the norm for 20 percent of public sector employees.

The actions are to be completed over the course of 2021 and monitored by an Implementation Group. 

Speaking about the Strategy, Minister Varadkar described the post-pandemic work landscape as “a new and better normal”, but pointed to the need to update employment rights and provide guidance.

Increase in Ireland’s National Minimum Wage

The National Minimum Wage in the Republic of Ireland increased by 10c to €10.20 per hour on 1 January 2021. For workers under 18 the hourly rate is now €7.14; those aged 18 will earn €8.16 per hour, and those aged 19 will be entitled to €9.18 per hour.

Employees who are close relatives of a sole trader employer and employees who match the definition of ‘craft apprentice’ are excluded from the National Minimum Wage; it should also be noted that since 4 March 2019 trainee rates have been abolished.

In order to ensure that the increase in the minimum wage does not result in employers attracting a higher level of PRSI charge solely due to this increase, the employer PRSI threshold will increase from €395 currently to €398 from 1 January 2021.

Ireland’s Spring Legislative Programme Published

The Spring Legislative Programme for the forthcoming Oireachtas session was signed off by Cabinet on 12 January. The programme contains 32 bills for publication and prioritisation by Government Ministers, and aims to deliver on the commitments outlined in the July Programme for Government. Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers, TD, announced that “[k]ey legislation will be progressed in this term across a broad range of sectors including climate action, housing, health and transport.” Bills include the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, a new Affordable Housing Bill and the Parents’ Leave and Benefit (Amendment) Bill.

The full legislative programme can be viewed here.

Impact of new health restrictions on UK economy 

The UK Finance Minister Rishi Sunak has warned that the British economy will be significantly impacted by the new health restrictions put in place to help the country contain the spread of Covid-19. Minister Sunak told the UK parliament this week to expect the economy “to get worse before it gets better. He also suggested that the recently announced £4.6 billion package for businesses affected by the renewed lockdowns would not be increased by any additional economic support.

Forecasts by the OECD published in early December 2020  predicted a 2021 increase in labour market withdrawals, unemployment and bankruptcies, although extensions to crisis loan schemes and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are expected to provide support.

Ireland joins the High Ambition Coalition at the One Planet Summit

Ireland has joined over 50 countries in a ‘High Ambition Coalition’ pledging to protect 30 percent of the planet’s land and seas. Minister of State Malcolm Noonan confirmed Ireland’s participation in this coalition on Monday 11 January, at an event organised as part of the One Planet Summit. This international conference brought together heads of state and government as well as leaders of international organisations, financial institutions, the business sector and NGOs. The event was hosted by Ireland's former President, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson.

Speaking at the One Planet Summit European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged that the EU will invest “several hundred million euros” in biodiversity and animal-health related research projects, adding “if we don’t urgently act to protect our nature, we may already be at the beginning of an era of pandemics”.

Also at that Summit, the Prince of Wales announced a new sustainable finance charter, the ‘Terra Carta’, aimed at persuading businesses to embrace sustainability. The charter sets out a 10-point action plan, amounting to almost 100 actions, for businesses to become more sustainable by 2030. It is already backed by business such as the Bank of America, BP, Blackrock, Unilever and AstraZeneca. It aims to raise £7.3 billion to invest in the natural world by 2022, through the Prince’s newly launched Natural Capital Investment Alliance. In 2004, the Prince of Wales established the Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S), of which Chartered Accountants Ireland is a memberwhich aims to make sustainable decision-making business as usual.

Read all our updates on our Public Policy web centre