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Employees’ ability to work from home could limit job losses – ESRI

More workers should be facilitated to work from home in order to improve their chances of retaining their jobs, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute. 

In their report “Who Can Work From Home in Ireland”, authors Paul Redmond and Seamus McGuinness note that 800,000 workers are currently unemployed or furloughed because of Covid-19.

But many others have been able to hold onto their jobs by working from home. 

The ESRI says it is important to understand the ability of employees to work from home because homeworking can limit job losses and the associated economic contraction. 

Ensuring that as many people as possible continue to work from home may also help to prevent a further spike in the incidence of the virus, it finds. 

Homeworking may also alleviate short-term childcare pressures as schools and creches remain closed, though the ESRI cautions that “combining working from home with childminding is not a sustainable long-term option.” 

Before the Covid-19 crisis, 14% of employees in Ireland formally worked from home either sometimes or usually. 

This puts Ireland just above the average for Europe, where homeworking ranges from fewer than 1% in Bulgaria, Italy and Romania, to over 30% in Sweden. 

The ESRI found that those who were more likely to be working from home were full-time employees in high paid, highly qualified occupations, male, Irish nationals and aged over 30. 

On a sectoral basis, the highest numbers of employees working from home are in education (37%), ICT (36%) and finance (26%). However, just 2% of workers in accommodation and food work from home.  

“Approximately 30% of managers and professionals work from home, compared to just 1% of employees in elementary occupations”, according to the ESRI. 

In addition, couples with children were more likely to work from home than lone parents. 

Around 6% of so-called “essential” employees work from home, though that figure rises to 16% for non-essential employees.

“With schools and creches closed, and a relatively high number of essential employees with caring responsibilities because they are disproportionately female and/or lone parents, the inability to work from home exacerbates childcare difficulties,” the ESRI said. 

“Given the high numbers of lone parents among essential employees, this underscores the need for adequate childcare provision for essential employees given the closure of schools and creches,” the report says. 

It also notes that many essential employees work in the lowest earning occupations, which constrains their ability to pay for private sector childcare, and leaves many “heavily reliant” on relatives. 

For “non-essential” workers, warns the ESRI, the inability to work from home will cost jobs.  

The authors say their research identifies a number of occupations and groups of workers – for example lower paid clerical jobs – where potential improvements could be made in respect of the incidence of home working.  

“While working from home is quite prevalent among higher paid occupations, increasing this capacity among lower paid occupations may be key to combating the potential unequal consequences of job losses and the economic contraction that will follow the Covid-19 crisis”, they state. 

“Increasing the capacity to work from home among women, non-Irish nationals, younger workers and lone parents may help to prevent certain groups from facing disproportionately bad outcomes,” the ESRI added.

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