Employers are experiencing difficulties with unvaccinated workers and with other staff who are unhappy about the redesign of workspaces to accommodate social distancing, according to Isme.
Representatives from the lobby group, the organisation for small- and medium-sized businesses, appeared before an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday to outline problems employers are facing as they seek to deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief executive Neil McDonnell asked for the Companies (Rescue Process for Small and Micro Companies) Act to be commenced as soon as possible as Isme expects “we are going to see a significant number of SMES becoming insolvent in the first quarter of 2022.”
While employment supports for companies and employees are considered to have been helpful, Mr McDonnell said there were examples of the supports being abused.
“We are aware of reported cases of abuse of Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) by a small number of employers providing workers who were availing of the PUP for services on a cash basis,” he said.
He also outlined difficulties in recruiting staff, with hiring of general operatives and engineers proving particularly hard. He added there is concern among people working in the night time economy due to the latest set of Covid restrictions.
Reluctant to return
Noting that recruitment issues are common across Europe and in the US, Mr McDonnell said one standout issue was the number of employees who are reluctant to return to a workplace setting. Another problem is businesses not being able to properly accommodate health and safety concerns at their premises.
Mr McDonnell said after a poor start, the Credit Guarantee Scheme has now made approvals of €500 million, equivalent to 25 per cent of the funds available. The Future Growth Loan Scheme, which provides longer dated debt, “has proven far more successful and has been over-subscribed,” he said.
Isme’s chief executive also said the commercial rates waiver and the warehousing of VAT and PAYE liabilities has “provided a substantial boost to the liquidity of businesses which were starved of turnover”.
Also appearing before the Committee, Declan Hughes, an assistant secretary at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, said preparatory work on the Companies (Rescue Process for Small and Micro Companies) Act is ongoing and should be commenced shortly.
He told the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment that there was “continued, strong take-up” of Covid-related schemes for businesses.
Mr Hughes said €633 million has been administered through restart grants to nearly 109,000 applicants last year, with €200 million provided in grants and loans under the Enterprise Ireland/IDA Strategic Enterprise Fund to help support 1,600 businesses.