IN just over a year, remote work has developed from a novelty to a mainstay of our working life. Last May, Twitter became one of the first global companies to allow employees to work from home “forever”.
Since then, corporate giants like Facebook and Spotify, as well as several large companies in Great Britain and Ireland, have followed suit and will be offering “jobs from anywhere” for the foreseeable future.
In the past, easy access has been an important factor in choosing our location as concerns about job opportunities have led many to relocate to major English cities such as London and Manchester. The rise of remote working has changed this and raised an important question: “Where would you live if you could work anywhere you want?”
The USwitch Remote Working Index 2020, which ranks cities and towns across the UK on areas such as green space availability, air pollution and download speed, ranked Derry City and Strabane in fourth place and Belfast in 22nd place.
In stark contrast, London was 88th, Manchester last. New, flexible working practices could turn the “brain drain” of recent years into a “brain gain”, as we welcome back our highly qualified graduates who are looking for the high quality of life in the north.
This brain gain has the potential to revolutionize our local economies, especially in border areas like Donegal, and could bring significant financial benefits to our border businesses and communities. However, as these returnees will discover, restrictive personal tax rules could undermine this potential without an urgent legislative change by the Irish government.
For frontier workers who live in the Republic but work for a UK company, Irish tax law means that if you work from home at all, you will face “double taxation” of your income. These rules, suspended until the end of the year, could prevent thousands of frontier workers from working remotely and would prevent any attempt to bring UK residents back to our border areas. In short, they just don’t work.
Take, for example, cross-border workers who live in Donegal but work for a company based in Derry. Despite working from home since the beginning of the pandemic, they will completely lose this flexibility from January 1, 2022. Even checking their emails or answering a phone call would trigger this “double taxation”, a far cry from the modern work practices offered by companies like Twitter.
Urgent action is required to turn our “brain drain” into a “brain gain”. In the Shared Island Initiative and other cross-border institutions, despite much discussion about the need to strengthen our border economies, little attention has been paid to these harmful personal taxation rules.
They continue to threaten not only the return of qualified university graduates to our flourishing border communities, but could also lead to companies and their employees packing their bags.
Now is the time for the Irish government to act to remove these personal tax rules and end the personal tax problems returnees face. The opportunity to work for high profile UK companies while enjoying the beautiful Donegal countryside will be an attractive prospect for many that we should not be denied due to an outdated tax regime.
The north has never had a problem producing bright, talented, and highly skilled young professionals. The problem is how to keep them. Let us begin.
:: Aidan O’Kane is co-chair of the Cross Border Workers Coalition