Statutory sick pay scheme to be in place by next year, says Tánaiste

Varadkar hopes to bring legislation to Government ‘sometime this month’

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told Solidarity TD Mick Barry that the Government would “get the balance right,” with regard to the introduction of its statutory sick pay scheme. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told Solidarity TD Mick Barry that the Government would “get the balance right,” with regard to the introduction of its statutory sick pay scheme. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar hopes to bring legislation on the introduction of a statutory sick pay scheme to Government “sometime this month”.

Mr Varadkar, who is Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, said “work is well advanced” on the development of the scheme.

An inter-departmental group on sick pay was established and an international review of best practice has been completed, and following a public consultation 118 submissions were received.

Ireland is one of only three EU member states at present that does not have a statutory sick pay scheme in place.

Mr Varadkar said that about half of people in the country have a sick pay scheme and half do not. “Most people in the private sector don’t have a scheme. That’s wrong.”

The scheme aims to set a minimum floor for the benefit, with initial plans that pay would be covered for two weeks. It is understood to offer a rate of pay equating to a percentage of normal earnings, but capped at a maximum amount.

Mr Varadkar told Solidarity TD Mick Barry that the legislation will be through the Oireachtas this year and “will come into effect at the end of the year or no later than early next year”.

Mr Barry said that in the submissions on the scheme there “seems to be a high level of resistance to the concept of any kind of real fund here”.

He cited a submission where the author said “the rate of pay should be the current illness benefit, then topped up by the employer if they so wish”.

“Another said ‘there should be an earnings threshold as employers will not want to pay sick leave for part-time, seasonal and temporary employees’.”

One submission said “having a waiting period makes sense as it would prevent people calling in sick on a whim”.

Mr Barry described the submissions as “backward 19th century attitudes” and demanded that the Tánaiste should introduce “a mandatory sick pay scheme at 100 per cent for all workers”.

But Mr Varadkar replied that “I don’t think employers are the enemy here. It’s absolutely right that we would listen to their views and not shut them out.”

They were looking at international comparisons and the Northern Ireland scheme pays £90 a week “which is totally inadequate in my view. It will need to be much better than that,” he said.

But he added that “we need to bear in mind that many businesses are suffering and we have to take that into account”.

The Solidarity TD said that in many workplaces “it feels like a dictatorship”, as he cited the childcare sector where, he said, 84 per cent of workers do not have an employer that operates a sick pay scheme with the figure reaching 90 per cent in the case of meat plant workers.

But the Tánaiste told him “no matter what we do, you’re going to say it’s not enough”.

He added that he was going to change the system but “I’m going to get the balance right”.

Many businesses were struggling and “if someone is off sick the employer not only has to pay for their replacement, they will also have to pay for their absence.

“We don’t want to get to a situation where we go so far so fast that people have their hours cut and end up being laid off.”