Government’s ‘pandemic dividend’ to include flexible working, statutory sick pay

Minister warns cost of recognising contribution of public sector could top €1bn

Taoiseach Micheál Martin also suggested retail workers were to be included as part of any new separate initiative to reward key workers for their efforts during the Covid-19 crisis. Photograph: Don Pollard/CFR/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin also suggested retail workers were to be included as part of any new separate initiative to reward key workers for their efforts during the Covid-19 crisis. Photograph: Don Pollard/CFR/PA Wire

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The Government has signalled it wants to see major dividends for all workers arising from the pandemic, including flexible working, occupational pensions, statutory sick pay and a move to a living wage.

But there was confusion over plans to reward frontline health workers with an extra 10 days’ leave, and fresh warnings from the Government about the potential cost.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin also suggested retail workers were to be included as part of any new separate initiative to reward key workers for their efforts during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Government is expected to convene talks with trade unions about the shape of any new measure to “recognise” the contribution of frontline workers.

In the Dáil, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath warned the cost of extra pay or leave for all across the public sector as a reward could top €1 billion.

He said there would be “significant cost” associated with the provision of 10 days’ additional leave to health workers. The HSE had estimated in a submission to the Labour Court that such a measure would cost at least €377 million.

“Given that you would almost certainly have to involve a level of overtime and agency staff to provide the necessary cover, the costs would almost certainly exceed €500 million,” Mr McGrath said.

Bus and train workers

While the broader public service trade union movement has not lodged any claim for pandemic benefits, bus and train workers have done so, and there are fears that claims may spread across the public service.

Unions said they did not specifically seek 10 days’ additional leave in recognition for work during the pandemic, and senior union sources expressed bemusement at the proposals from the Government this week.

However, the HSE’s submission to the Labour Court contains as an appendix a letter sent by unions on December 23rd last year which stated specifically that their claim was for 10 days’ leave.

The HSE document says the unions later moved their position and said they were not wedded to the concept of additional leave as the only possible response.

Speaking to the employers’ group Ibec on Thursday night, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he wanted to build “a new economy that is more inclusive, more secure” and a “just society”.

He said in his remaining period as Minister for Enterprise and Employment he wanted to implement a series of reforms he had started.

He said as part of this “just society” there should be a move to a living wage, statutory sick pay, occupational pensions for all workers, flexibility in the workplace, remote working and more opportunities for promotion, training, education, research and gender equality.

“I want to make sure that the last 18 months have not been in vain and that we secure a pandemic dividend. We must keep a close eye on competitiveness, personal and business taxation, while building better, quality jobs. An environment in which businesses can prosper, but workers too.”

Statutory sick pay

Officials said Mr Varadkar hoped to introduce statutory sick pay in 2022, the living wage on a phased basis later that year or in 2023, and with auto-enrolment to occupational pensions schemes following on from that.

Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said he is engaging with the European Commission to clarify whether Ireland could continue to levy a 12.5 per cent rate on companies with turnover of less than €750 million, if it signs up to an international plan for a minimum 15 per cent global rate for companies generating more than this amount a year.

Mr Varadkar highlighted earlier this week that Irish-based companies with turnover below that threshold would continue to enjoy the lower rate if Ireland opted into the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) plan.

However, Mr Donohoe conceded on Thursday the possibility of operating two corporate tax rates is one of a number of issues that he is engaging with the commission on.

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