Coronavirus: Paid leave for some partners of healthcare workers to assist with childcare

Government wary of ‘second wave’ as it examines plan to lift restrictions

Paid leave will be provided for some partners of healthcare workers to assist with childcare issues in the home, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced.

Mr Varadkar said that a proposal was considered on Tuesday by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on childcare for frontline workers, and the proposal has two aspects.

The first is to provide paid leave to the partners of healthcare workers.

This would apply where the partner currently works in the public sector and would allow them to stay at home and provide childcare.


“That has been approved by NPHET so we can try and action that now over the next couple of weeks,” Mr Varadkar said.

However, those who are lone parents or whose partners do not work in public sector may have to wait until May 5th for support.

“It isn’t an adequate answer for those who either are both healthcare workers or one is in the private sector and one is the public sector,” Mr Varadkar said.

“The second piece which NPHET still has reservations about is using child minders to go into people’s homes. But that’s now going to be considered as something that perhaps could kick in on May 5th as part of a general easing of restrictions. But they’re not happy for us to do it right now.”

However, the new childcare proposals were strongly criticised by nurses’ representatives who claimed they were “worse than irrelevant”.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the proposals would “do nothing for the vast majority of nurses and midwives”.

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “This is a surprisingly old-fashioned concept of family needs. It will not resolve the issues faced by the vast majority of nurses and midwives, offering a limited solution only to those with partners in some public sector work.

“It actively discriminates against single parents and many modern families, who will still have the same problems in relation to childcare provision. It cannot be ignored that over 90 per cent of our members are women.

“We have been seeking a proper solution on behalf of our members for well over a month. We have been bounced back and forth between departments, given endless deadlines for decisions by NPHET. This proposal as reported would not even have needed NPHET approval.”

She said Ireland’s nurses and midwives were risking their lives to provide care and the least the State could do was take care of their children when they went to work.

“Those who can find childcare are paying over the odds, with some of our members practically paying to go to work in a high-risk environment. They also get nothing.”

The largest public service trade union, Fórsa said the Government’s childcare plans fell short of what was required to assist essential health staff and maximise the numbers available in hospitals and nursing homes.

Fórsa, which represents 30,000 health workers, said the plan was a partial solution that would not help those hit hardest by childcare difficulties - single parents, and families where both adults are essential workers. Neither would it assist health workers whose partners have jobs in the private sector.

Fórsa’s head of health Éamonn Donnelly said the Government’s plan was “at best a partial measure”. He said essential health staff were being forced to stay at home to look after their children, even as the coronavirus was depleting the number of health staff available for work.

Earlier, at the Government's morning Covid-19 briefing, assistant secretary general at the Department of Taoiseach Liz Canavan said a roadmap to lifting restrictions would be shared before May 5th when the current restrictions are due to be reviewed.

She said the Government is monitoring the experience of other countries where second waves of the coronavirus are emerging and has warned that “every day matters” in the lead up to any potential lifting of restrictions.

She also warned that the road to return for sports must be “gradual.”

Ms Canavan cautioned that any overall changes to restrictions will be gradual and will be dependent on the progression of the disease.

“Everything is very dependent on the public health advice and the progression of the disease. It is likely to be step by step. Once you lift any measure, more people start moving around.

“We are looking at what other countries are doing and you can see in other countries they are having their second wave. We want to make sure that we are able to monitor very closely what the changes are doing to the progression of the disease. That will be part of the thinking.

“Every day we are getting more information about how the diseases behaves. Every day matters. Every day of data tells us more about about how it is behaving.”

Ms Canavan said that public health considerations form the baseline of the Government’s plan while the economic and social consequences of any actions are considered in tandem with that.

She said that there has been “considerable interest and concern around the topic of easing restrictions about what the exit strategy may be and when those restrictions might end. The current public health advice extends all restrictions until May 5th.

“It is important to note that all of those restrictions will remain in place until the National Public Health Emergency Team gives the Government further advice.

“We are preparing a plan which we we will have ready to share in advance of any modifications to the current restrictions.

“It is clear any plan to ease some restrictions will have to be done hand in hand with continuing to follow public health advice including social distancing requirements.”

She also warned that the “road to return for sports needs to be gradual.”

Meanwhile shopkeepers and supermarket owners have been reminded that families can shop together including with small children amid concerns that lone parents are being unfairly targeted.

In terms of the economy, Ms Canavan said it was "no surprise that the economic landscape has changed dramatically in Ireland and across the globe."

“Amidst this bad news it is important to remember that Ireland is facing into the crisis from a position of strength and we will put in place a recovery plan.”

Meanwhile some 47,400 employers have applied for the Government’s temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme.

The cumulative value to companies made under the scheme is now €378 million euro.

Employees affected by Covid-19 pandemic can also apply for a pandemic unemployment payment.

Separately, the Department of Agriculture has along with EU counterparts submitted a statement to the Commission of Agriculture requesting that the economic impact of Covid-19 on farmers and the agrifood sector be acknowledged and addressed.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times