By MARTHA BRENNAN
FEARS over hygiene standards in the workplace are one of the top concerns of West Cork employees returning to work, according to the Citizens Information Centre. According to the West Cork division of the Centre, there has recently been a surge in enquiries amongst workers about employee rights.
As people slowly return to their places of work, many are facing concerns that they never imagined before Covid-19 hit, and queries are flooding in from workers across all ages and occupations.
In a county with a big emphasis on tourism, concerns about hygiene in the workplace are paramount for West Cork workers.
‘Employment issues can be complex,’ Anne O’Donovan, of the West Cork division of the Citizens Information Centre, said.
‘Now there are also issues that people are facing for the first time, such as concerns about hygiene and safety rights.’
Workers who may have underlying health issues, or live with someone vulnerable, are especially concerned with getting clarity on the basic standards and steps that need to be put in workplaces now, from mask wearing and social distancing to cleaning.
‘Generally, if an employer is trying their best to minimise the risk of infection, employees should be in a position to return to work’, Anne said, but she urges anyone with concerns to contact their office.
Though it is hard to generalise queries, which are very individual and treated on a case by case basis, a noticeable amount of people have been asking the centre about their rights on other issues as well.
Many people are enquiring about their work hours changing, such as if they were switching from full-time to part-time employment or have had their hours cut. Concerns have also been raised about redeployment and annual leave.
A lot of employers are asking, or insisting, that workers take their annual leave before the end of the year, which is causing some annoyance for workers who had wished to carry their holidays over to next year, since travel plans have mostly been wiped for the rest of this year.
Ultimately, it’s up to the employer to decide when someone can take their annual leave, according to Anne, but usually they have good reason to.
‘Because people can’t really go anywhere they don’t want to take their annual leave right now,’ said Anne. ‘But then from the employers side, they are concerned about accumulations building up and all of those things need to be worked out. Employers should take into consideration employees’ needs, when it comes to those who have families and so on.’
Employers are also required to give notice to workers if they are being asked to take their holidays this year.
‘They need to give you a month’s notice. They can’t just turn around retrospectively and say you didn’t take your annual leave,’ Anne pointed out.
If workers wish to check their rights regarding annual leave or changing hours, they should check their own work contract and can also consult legislation via the Citizens Information website or offices.
‘People are in a different situation that they haven’t considered before and just want clarity. As long as employers cooperate with employees there shouldn’t be an issue.’ Anne said.
‘The legislation hasn’t changed. People’s rights are still there.’
For any employees or employers looking to discuss concerns they may have about workers’ rights, the Citizens Information Centre asks them to phone 0761 07 8390, visit the Citizens Information website or call into their Bantry or Macroom branches.