Paul Quinn: Why cross-border workers need a new year's resolution to home-working restrictions

Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is being accused of denying Covid-19 related support to cross-border workers
Paul Quinn

“ONE of the single most effective interventions [to control Covid-19]” . . .

That is how Chief Medical Officer Sir Michael McBride described home-working earlier this month. Through lockdowns, circuit breakers, and everything in between, employees across this island have faced major disruption to their working lives. But, in our continued fight against Covid-, one thing has remained clear – home-working helps.

The last several weeks have seen ministers, north and south, re-impose work-from-home guidance. As transmission rates grow amid what will be a challenging winter, employees across the island are being asked to play their part in slowing the virus spread. For many of us, this is a welcome step from both governments that may halt any rapid return to the office in the new year. But for cross-border workers, it’s not so simple.

Twenty-five-year-old tax rules mean that cross-border workers are denied tax relief on their income if they work remotely. While suspended since March 2020, this temporary waiver will end on January 1. New Year’s Day will see pre-pandemic rules re-introduced, posing negative financial implications to employers, workers, and families across the border region.

For border employees like myself, the temporary waiver has transformed my work-life balance. I have spent more time with my family, avoided unnecessary, long, daily commutes, and have seen benefits to my productivity. In just four weeks, this flexibility is set to be lost overnight with no alternative support set to be put in place.

As a Coalition, we have met with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe three times to express our concerns. His disregard for our asks is disappointing, and with no permanent legislative change on the horizon, we have urged him to extend the Covid-19 waiver for the 2022 tax year at the very least. The Department of Finance is yet to act, and the question must be asked: why is the Minister seeking to deny Covid-19 related support to cross-border workers while his government continues to battle with the pandemic?

The end of the year is fast approaching, and speaking to other cross-border workers affected by this issue, the January cliff-edge is posing considerable concern. From changing jobs to moving homes, the re-imposition of these outdated tax rules could pose significant disruption to the lives of many, myself included. Disruption that none of us desire amidst a global pandemic.

This week, the Republic’s Finance Bill will reach report stage, and despite amendments being tabled addressing this issue, Minister Donohoe and his colleagues have voted them down. The opportunity is now for the minister to act, and in the subsequent stages of the Bill, we would ask that the minister implements reform as a matter of urgency.

It has often been said that Covid-19 sees no borders. The Irish Government and Stormont Executive have shown their commitment to home-working, but now is the time for cross-border workers to be heard. Now is the time for an all-island approach. Cross-border workers need a new year’s resolution, they need an extension to the temporary waiver, and they need it now.

:: Paul Quinn is co-chair of the Cross Border Workers Coalition

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