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What will the ‘right to disconnect’ workplace code mean for you?

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The Government has introduced a new code of practice to bolster the right of employees to switch off from work outside normal working hours.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has presented the move as an effort to strike a better work-life balance, no bad thing in an era of home-working. However, the initiative is but a start down a long road and lawyers say it is open to court challenge.

What’s the problem?

The constant and ever-growing tide of calls, emails and text messages on work devices leaves many workers feeling they are never off duty. The intrusion on private life is all the greater because working from home has become the norm for many.

Varadkar’s solution?

The Tánaiste says the new code will protect the right of every employee to not have to routinely perform work outside normal working hours. Thus workers have the right not to be penalised for refusing to do so. Moreover, the code underpins the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect by not routinely emailing or calling outside work time.

How is it supposed to work?

Employers are being urged to engage with staff or unions on a right-to-disconnect policy that takes account of the needs of the business and its workforce. “It’s not revolutionary,” says barrister Des Ryan, associate law professor at Trinity College Dublin. “But at least it’s an initial step towards recognising the importance of the right to disconnect and the obligation on employers and employees to consider and monitor work-life balance.”

Back to 9-5?

Not so fast. “Does this mean that nobody is ever going to check or send an email after official working hours? Of course not,” Ryan says. “This is not going to be an instant panacea for people concerned about employee burnout because of a failure to switch off. Instead, it’s an important initial step in trying to normalise or bring about a culture in the workplace where consideration is given to the need to disengage from work.”

How big is this really?

The code itself is not legally binding and it won’t be an offence to break it. But it can be used in evidence in legal proceedings so it is a “significant” development, says Ryan. He notes that Supreme Court rulings on workplace bullying are grounded in definitions of bullying first set out in a similar code of practice.

What about dealings with colleagues in the US or China, several time zones away?

If employees in Ireland need to work beyond regular hours with colleagues in distant countries then the policy should reflect that. The policy must recognise that time differences and international travel “may result in colleagues connecting at different times” outside normal hours, says the code published by the Workplace Relations Commission. “This does not mean that the recipient needs to respond in the same time period. Clear guidance around disconnecting and expectations for responding to digital communications globally should be provided to all employees.”

Problem solved?

Far from it, says Richard Grogan, an employment law solicitor based in Dublin. Instead of enhancing workers’ rights, he argues the new code could be used to dilute them.

How can that be?

By law as it stands, an employer can contact staff to work out of hours only because of an accident or threatened accident, or with 24 hours’ notice. “You can’t have an emergency every week,” Grogan says. But the new code says company policies “should allow for occasional legitimate situations” when it is necessary to contact staff outside of normal working hours.

Legitimate reasons per the code are not limited to emergencies?

Exactly. They include: ascertaining availability for rosters; filling in at short notice for a sick colleague; where unforeseeable circumstances arise; where an emergency may arise; and/or where business and operational reasons require contact out of normal working hours. In this respect, says Grogan, the code “flies contrary” to the Organisation of Working Time Act. This is equivalent to saying drivers can occasionally exceed the speed on a stretch of road, he says.

So the code could be destined for the courts?

“It’s going to take a couple of years to get any cases running,” says Grogan.

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Cladding-hit flat owner to send repair bills to developer after floor collapses

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‘I’ll be sending the bill to the chief executive’: Cladding-hit flat owner hits out at developer after his floor collapses in latest building fiasco

  • Homeowner sees floor at his London flat collapse in latest building fiasco
  • We exclusively reveal the full extent of the damage – a hole that is 40cm by 30cm
  • The damage is the latest question about building work in flats across Britain
  • Many flats have already been hit by the cladding crisis and face huge repair bills 










A leaseholder who is already having to deal with expensive cladding issues has hit out at poor craftsmanship after the floor of his flat collapsed beneath his feet.

Liam Spender explained that he was at home at the weekend when he felt the floor give way.

‘I felt the floor go and moved quickly out of the way. I turned back and there was a dip in the carpet. I nearly fell through the floor,’ he said.

Leaseholder Liam Spender (pictured) has hit out at poor craftsmanship at his London home in Canary Wharf

Leaseholder Liam Spender (pictured) has hit out at poor craftsmanship at his London home in Canary Wharf

Mr Spender lifted the carpet at his London flat near Canary Wharf to reveal the full extent of the damage – a hole that is approximately 40cm by 30cm.

He explained that his flat is across two levels, meaning that the floor between is allowed to be made as it is – with chipboard and wooden joists – and does not need to include concrete. 

However, Mr Spender claimed that the sheets of chipboard were not adequately supported by the floor joists. 

The damaged floor is on a gallery above his bedroom. ‘It could have been a lot worse and I could have gone straight through,’ he said.

Taking to Twitter, Mr Spender explained how the floor was not adequate, saying: ‘There is only air between the floor boards and the room underneath.’

Mr Spender claimed that the chipboard floor was not adequately supported by the floor joists

Mr Spender claimed that the chipboard floor was not adequately supported by the floor joists

The flat owner revealed the full extent of the damage - a hole that is approximately 40cm by 30cm

The flat owner revealed the full extent of the damage – a hole that is approximately 40cm by 30cm

It is the latest challenge Mr Spender has at his building, as he already faces a bill for remediation works due to cladding issues.

‘I’m going to get the bill for fixing the mess on cladding. The broken floor is literally a step too far. 

He said: ‘I’m going to get the bill for fixing the mess on cladding. The broken floor is literally a step too far.

‘I have not had my bill for the cladding issues yet. But I’ll be sending the bill for the floor and the cladding – when it comes – marked for the attention of the chief executive and chairman of Berkeley homes.’

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue.

Lenders have refused to provide finance on some types of cladding, leaving some flat owners trapped in unsafe homes that they are unable to sell.

Berkeley Group was approached for comment, but declined to comment. 

Mr Spender said the broken floor was 'a step too far' as he was already expecting a repair bill for cladding issues at his building

Mr Spender said the broken floor was ‘a step too far’ as he was already expecting a repair bill for cladding issues at his building

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How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

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We want to hear your views on the proposed new carbon budgets which, the Government says, will change how people live and work. The proposed budgets, published by the Climate Change Advisory Council, will apply to every sector of the economy and will outline a limit for total emissions that can be released.

The first carbon budget, which will run from 2021 to 2025, will see emissions reduce by 4.8 per cent on average each year for five years. The second budget, which will run from 2026 to 2030, will see emissions reduce by 8.3 per cent on average each year for five years. The council says the budgets will require “transformational changes for society” but that failing to act would have “grave consequences”. Environmental campaigners say the budgets will provide a cleaner, healthier and safer future but some rural groups such as the Irish Farmers’ Association say they will have “serious repercussions”.

How do you feel about the new carbon budgets?

Now we’d like to hear your views: Do you support the budgets or are you against them; do they go too far or not far enough?

We will publish a selection of your responses online (If you are reading this on the Irish Times app, click here to access the form for submissions).

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House sales shoot up a THIRD in September amid fears of mortgage rate hike

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The number of homes bought and sold in Britain rose by two thirds in September compared to August, with experts believing buyers are seeking to get ahead of a potential rise in mortgage rates. 

There were nearly 161,000 property transactions in September on a seasonally-adjusted basis, a 67.5 per cent increase on the previous month, according to latest figures from HMRC. 

They also increased by 68 per cent compared to September 2020, and 63 per cent compared to the ‘normal’ market average in September 2017 to 2019.

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

The cost of a mortgage could be set to increase, if the Bank of England base rate rises

Experts say the sharp rise was only partly a result of the Government’s stamp duty holiday, which has fuelled price growth of around £25,000 in the last year but finally ended on 30 September. 

It initially allowed buyers to save up to £15,000 in taxes as they did not need to pay stamp duty on the portion of their property purchase under £500,000. 

But in September, the tax break would have had a more subdued effect.

In England and Northern Ireland, it was tapered down between July and September so that buyers could only save £2,500.

And the holiday had already expired in Scotland and Wales, on 31 March and 30 June respectively. 

Given that the impact of the stamp duty holiday was lessening, some suggest that other factors have become more important in maintaining high levels of activity in the housing market. 

There are a number of things at play, according to Lawrence Bowles, senior research analyst at Savills.

‘There’s more to this activity than a stamp duty holiday: record-low mortgage rates, desire for more space, and a core of unmet pent up demand all continue to push up transaction volumes,’ he says. 

Although it is one of several reasons why the housing market remains hot, the desire for a cheap mortgage has become more of a pressing issue for buyers in recent days and weeks. 

This is because speculation about a rise in the Bank of England’s base rate has threatened an increase in the current super-low rates.

At the moment, rates are available as low as 0.89 per cent – but they are already rising. At its lowest, the cheapest fixed rate on the market was 0.84 per cent.

Major lenders including NatWest, HSBC and Barclays have all moved to increase rates on some mortgages, after months of sustained falls. 

With a base rate rise being predicted by some for December, experts are suggesting that the threat of mortgage rates going up is the ‘new stamp duty holiday’ and that the rush to complete sales before rates rise is now keeping the housing market buoyant.

Simon Bath, chief executive of technology company iPlace Global which created the property advice app Moveable, says: ‘We have reached another crossroads in which following the stamp duty holiday, there is another potential deadline for Brits to prepare for.

‘It seems likely that house prices will continue to rise before demand slows down, as Brits race to obtain lower mortgage rates.’

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove

Rising costs: Those buying homes have seen the typical sale price increase by £5,000 in the last month alone, according to data from the property platform Rightmove 

Early statistics back his price rise theory up. According to Rightmove’s latest house price index, which covers the first half of October, the average house price jumped £5,000 compared to the previous month. 

In addition, every UK region broke asking price records for the first time since March 2007.

The property portal noted in its report: ‘The continued fast turnover of property for sale and a window of opportunity to buy before a potential interest rate rise seem to have overcome the final expiry of all stamp duty incentives and are keeping activity robust.’

This trend is keeping the market buoyant for now, but could it really lead to another buying frenzy? Iain McKenzie, chief executive of The Guild of Property Professionals, says so. 

‘With demand for properties still high, and a potential mortgage rate rise on the horizon, this could be the perfect storm to see another frenzy to buy, so long as the shortage of stock doesn’t continue,’ he says. 

There is also the simple fact that people who were trying to meet the September stamp duty deadline, but failed, are unlikely to abandon their purchases, and will continue to add to the totals over the coming months. 

But others are less sure about talk of another buying boom. With the base rate rise only tipped to be from 0.1 per cent to 0.25 per cent, the difference in people’s mortgage payments may only be a few pounds per month. 

For example, for someone with a £120,000, two-year fixed rate mortgage on a £200,000 home, the difference between a 0.89 per cent rate and a 1.04 per cent rate would be just over £8 a month, or just under £200 across the fixed period. 

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Office for National Statistics data showing house price increases over the past 15 years

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, says: ‘People will still move without stamp duty holidays and will continue to refinance their homes, whether mortgage rates are below 1 per cent or around 2 per cent.

‘Borrowers are keen to secure these historically-low mortgage rates but if the right property comes along, they are still likely to buy even if they have to pay say 15 basis points more and won’t qualify for a stamp duty holiday.’

But as the stamp duty holiday proved, the psychological impact of thinking you are saving money can be powerful, even when the actual cash saving is negligible. 

While buyers did indeed ‘save’ up to £15,000 in tax, house price rises during the stamp duty holiday were upwards of £20,000, eclipsing the actual saving.   

The true impact that the mooted rise in mortgage rates will have depends on myraid factors, including whether there is further clarity on if and when the base rate change might actually happen, and how mortgage lenders continue to respond to the situation. 

All eyes will be on the October transaction statistics and house price indices to see whether the market is remaining buoyant. 

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