There needs to be a clear plan for the return of workers to offices rather than ‘flippant statements’ from senior ministers, a Social Democrats TD has said.
Jennifer Whitmore was speaking after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he’d like NPHET to consider allowing workers return to offices from August - rather than the September goal previously indicated by the Government.
Following the Tánaiste's comments, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed the rules on working from home will likely be reviewed at the end of this month.
While the reopening process is ongoing, the Government had previously said people who can work from home would be asked to continue doing so throughout the summer.
On The Hard Shoulder, Whitmore said a “very, very clear plan” is needed before people start going back to offices.
She said: “There’s a real sense of positivity around at the moment… the vaccine rollout is going very well, and everyone is really eager to get back to some sense of normality. Subject to the health guidelines, a move like that is something people are looking forward to.
“I would prefer to see a collaborative decision coming from Government, rather than the Tánaiste doing a solo-run on it. When people hear things like that… it sets an expectation.
“Rather than coming out with a flippant statement that this is what he’d like to see happen… what we need is for Government to make that decision based on the health advice, and also to come out with a plan.”
The Wicklow TD said there are significant issues that need to be addressed before a larger-scale return to offices - including around childcare and public transport.
She said: “Children are off on holidays in August, and there will be a lot of childcare issues for parents. “A lot of children have been out for a year, and a lot of the childcare facilities are still on restricted hours.
“Buses are still on 50% occupancy - will the bus and train system be in place to allow commuters get into work? Those are all the things we actually have to think through.”
Duncan Graham, managing director of Retail Excellence, believes the return to offices will be very welcome for the retail sector.
He said: “It’s been a long time, and our city centres are really struggling.
“Retail has bounced back, and it has been pretty good in shopping centres and some of our smaller towns.
“But if you look at our city centres and Dublin in particular… we’ve been missing the tourists, we’ve been missing hospitality up til this week, and we’re absolutely missing the office workers.”
Mr Graham said city centre footfall is still down as much as 50% on pre-pandemic levels, and lots of work is needed.
He believes workers will only be back in offices 2-3 days a week at first, but it would “all be a help” in rejuvenating city centres.