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Assembly Written Question 18297/17-22

To ask the Minister for the Economy whether she will develop a remote working strategy, to ensure that the benefits of remote working are maximised, and current employment rights law in this area are fit for purpose.

Answer: I have no immediate plans to develop a remote working strategy; however, my economic vision for NI, as outlined in the recently published: A 10x Economy, recognises that the Covid-19 pandemic alongside digital advancements has driven transformative change in attitudes to remote and more agile ways of working.

For many, working remotely has become the norm, with many companies indicating they will offer more flexible ways of working in the future. The current change to mass remote working of office workers occurred almost overnight and the effects of that change are not yet fully understood. Only after we have further evidence of the impact of these changes can decisions be made for the longer term.

We should remember, though, that for many, working remotely is not an option. Therefore any future decisions that we make as a society, employers and individuals, must take into account the diversity of the job market and the needs of our economy.

Currently, in terms of facilitating remote working, the right to request a flexible working arrangement is already part of our employment law framework. Many good employers recognise the positive impact flexible working can have on their workforce and productivity. I would urge all employers to accommodate flexible working patterns where possible, as this can help retain skilled workers, maximise participation in the economy and ensure everyone achieves his or her potential. The Labour Relations Agency has produced A Practical Guide to Working from Home: Covid-19 and beyond which provides useful guidance for both employers and individuals when considering a home working arrangement.

Also, I recognise the importance of good broadband to working remotely. Project Stratum, the largest telecommunications infrastructure project undertaken by my Department, will deliver gigabit capable broadband infrastructure to more than 76,000 primarily rural premises across NI. Project Stratum will act as an enabler, helping businesses develop and extend their reach, and helping individuals fulfil their potential. As we emerge from this Covid-19 crisis, Project Stratum will play a vital role in re-building our economy, offering encouragement to businesses and citizens in those areas in need of broadband improvement by building the infrastructure necessary to enable their local economies to grow, compete and prosper.

In the longer term, delivering on: A 10x Economy will underpin our work on rebuilding the NI economy and promoting economic recovery and resilience. I am committed to delivering a strong, competitive and regionally balanced economy that works for everyone. For all of our people this means better jobs with better wages, in a more flexible working environment and a better overall quality of life.

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