Cross border workers’ concerns must be addressed if we are to make Derry a remote working hub

By Conor Dowds, Co-Chair of the Cross Border Workers Coalition

Since the pandemic began, there has been a fundamental re-think in not just how we live and work, but also, where. Remote work has grown to be a mainstay of our working lives, throwing in doubt the importance of factors such as office facilities and your daily office commute, considerations which previously dominated any question of location. Flexible working practises are here to stay, and businesses and employees alike are benefitting from the so-called “new normal”.

In recent weeks, spurred on by this shift, Invest Derry City & Strabane have launched an exciting new campaign aimed at promoting the North West as a premium remote working destination. This welcome initiative seeks to attract highly skilled home-workers to Derry, Tyrone, and Donegal by highlighting the excellent living standards and employment opportunities available here.

From our beautiful scenery to the growing, dynamic, economy here, it is no surprise that, for example, Derry City & Strabane was ranked fourth in the UK-wide USwitch Remote Working Index 2020, finishing much higher than hotspots such as London, which placed 88th. If capitalised on, remote work has the potential to transform the North West economy, especially in border areas like Donegal which have the most to gain from this fantastic campaign.

For remote workers, the North West can offer employees a fantastic place to pursue an exciting career while raising a family. For the thousands of cross-border workers who live in the Republic of Ireland but work in NI, however, restrictive Irish tax laws could see the loss of this opportunity.

If you live in Donegal, but work in Derry, an outdated tax stipulation means that if you work-from-home at all, you can face a ‘double tax’ on your income. Even if you work in the office four-days-a-week and look to work remotely on a Friday, you’ll face a significant financial penalty.

These rules restricting home-working have been suspended until January 2022, and if re-introduced, would significantly disadvantage businesses in the North West looking to attract remote workers. Businesses may even be forced to restrict their workforce to one side of the border, which, reports show, could have devastating consequences. A EURES 2020 report found that as many as 75% of businesses in the border region employ staff from the opposite jurisdiction.

As we look to make Derry and the entire North West a future remote working hub, the concerns of cross border workers must be addressed. Left unchanged, these personal tax rules not only threaten to stifle this fantastic initiative from Invest Derry City & Strabane but could lead to businesses and employees to look elsewhere, away from the border region.

Looking forward, it is vital that this issue is addressed before the broader North West economy loses out. We live in an era of change, and as we look to take advantage of the fantastic opportunities remote working offers, we must not leave cross-border workers behind.