Why 2022 should be the year of the cross-border worker

By Aidan O’Kane, Co-Chair of the Cross Border Workers Coalition

All-island collaboration gets results. From Brexit to the Good Friday Agreement, we know that working beyond borders means we can start to address the political, social, and economic issues we face here. And similarly, we know that working in our silos, or even against one another, achieves little for anyone, North or South.

As Patrick Kielty said in his address to the Shared Island Forum, sometimes sharing isn’t easy. “A shared island means challenging ourselves to go beyond our comfort zones”, he continued. In the last two years, the pandemic has presented the biggest challenge we have faced both personally, professionally, and as an island. Every day has involved pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones, and looking ahead to 2022, this daily uncertainty is set to continue.

For cross-border workers, this insecurity is particularly rife. Approximately 12,500 people live in Ireland but work in Northern Ireland, and since March 2020, they have been able to work-from-home like everyone else. A temporary waiver from the Irish Government has suspended tax rules which, left unchanged, could have posed a ‘double tax’ for border employees working remotely. Initially applicable for the 2020 Tax Year, the waiver has since been extended twice, and currently offers vital protection for workers affected.

Under new Irish Government regulations, however, this support could be lost overnight. Revenue has confirmed that the waiver will only be in place insomuch as public health guidance recommends home-working. No timeframe, no certainty, no clarity, this cliff-edge approach simply does not work for the employees we represent. For example, what if advice changes late on a Thursday night, are border employees obliged to drop everything and commute on Friday morning?

Speaking about our issue last month, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe TD said that current legislation “was not designed to apply to remote working scenarios”. Current legislation is outdated and does not reflect the modern working practises operated by businesses across this island. The temporary Covid-19 waiver cannot be extended indefinitely and kicking the can down the road only achieves so much.

We are set to meet Minister Donohoe again in the coming weeks, and our message is clear: a permanent, pragmatic approach must be taken if this issue is to be resolved. Our calls for legislative change are echoed by businesses, employees, and border families North and South. The Minister has heard our concerns directly on three occasions, now is the time for him to listen.

Last month, I had the privilege of briefing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement regarding this issue. Parties from Westminster, Leinster House, and everywhere in between, recognised the need for this issue to be resolved urgently. All-island collaboration in action, working towards addressing the real issues facing border communities.

As we look towards building a shared island, we must set markers, goals along the way that typify real success and progress. Let’s make 2022 the year of the cross-border worker and begin to address the real issues faced on-the-ground. As Kielty said, sharing sometimes isn’t easy. But by collaborating we can make this island work, one issue at a time.