Government ‘hypocritical’ by failing to act on recommendation to deal with sick pay

Labour leader accuses State of breaching public health guidelines on benefit scheme

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly appealed to the Government ‘not to kick this legislation down the road for six months’.File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly appealed to the Government ‘not to kick this legislation down the road for six months’.File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Government’s failure to introduce a statutory sick pay scheme is a breach of public health advice, the Dáil has been told.

Labour leader Alan Kelly said it was “hypocritical” of the Government to tell the public to follow public health advice when it had failed to follow the recommendation of the HSE and acting chief medical officer who in August said the issue of sick pay should be dealt with.

Mr Kelly was speaking during a debate on the party’s Sick Leave and Parental Leave (Covid-19) which aims to create a statutory pay scheme which would allow workers who have the virus and who otherwise would not get paid to stay at home. It also provides for parents to look after their children, if there is an outbreak in a school.

The Tipperary TD appealed to the Government “not to kick this legislation down the road for six months”.

He said if the Government delayed it is saying “you can follow public health advice and when it doesn’t suit your political needs, you don’t have to. That is bloody well hypocrisy.”

Mr Kelly also hit out at opposition parties and Independents in particular who accused Labour of hypocrisy and pointed to cuts they imposed during their time in government.

The Labour leader criticised “Independents of the rural variety who effectively said they do not believe workers should have statutory sick pay. Imagine not believing workers should have statutory sick pay or believing that a parent with a child in a school with a case of Covid should not get time off to look after that child.”

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said the lack of a statutory sick pay scheme “disproportionately affects women”. Without sick pay “we are directly incentivising people to go to work while sick”.

Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae described the Bill as a “complete farce” and said the party is “trying to cod people”.

When in government Labour had “done away with” social welfare benefits and “there are people across the country who are paying a price” for what Labour did in office.

Mr Healy-Rae said he was an employer and “there’s not one person in the Labour Party who paid a person on a Friday evening and they don’t give a damn”.

Illness benefit

Minister for Employment Affairs Heather Humphreys said there is an enhanced Covid-19 rate of illness benefit of €350 paid to employees and the self-employed diagnosed with Covid or where it is a probable source of infection. Ms Humphreys said the Government will spend €599 million this year alone on illness benefit.

Labour in government looked at the issue in 2012 during the recession when businesses were under severe pressure and did not proceed, she said.

“It’s ironic that we are now talking about statutory sick pay again today at a time businesses are again facing huge challenges.”

The Minister said there had to be consultation with employers and other stakeholders, which was why the Government was seeking six months to consult and reflect on the issue.

But Labour enterprise spokesman Aodhán Ó Riordáin said they did not have six months. He said Ireland was one of only five EU countries without statutory six pay and 23 per cent of workers are low paid with 40 per cent of under 30s in insecure employment. They were most at risk and most likely to go to work while sick because they would not otherwise be paid.

Independent TD Sean Canney said they need to protect families in these uncertain times but “at the same time the question arises as to who will pay for this”. “Is it expected that employers, who are currently hanging on by a thread, will have to pay for it?” he asked.

He said small businesses “are making decisions daily as to how to keep their doors open and their employees at work cannot now be faced with another cost to business”.