New mothers being left out of coronavirus pandemic payment, groups claim

‘Discrepancy’ in temporary wage subsidy affects women back from maternity leave

Representative bodies have called for the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, to resolve this issue as soon as possible so women returning to work ‘have their jobs and income protected’. Photograph:  Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

Representative bodies have called for the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, to resolve this issue as soon as possible so women returning to work ‘have their jobs and income protected’. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

 

Women returning from maternity leave are excluded from the temporary wage subsidy scheme (TWSS) because they were on maternity benefit in January and February, trade unions and lobby groups have said.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and Siptu wrote to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe on Thursday to highlight an “irregularity in the administration” of the TWSS.

In the letter, the signatories state that women returning to work from maternity leave do not qualify for the scheme because although “the person was an employee, they did not receive normal pay during January and February 2020”.

Revenue’s guidance on the scheme states that employers of workers who did not receive their usual pay in the first two months of the year can operate the scheme based on Average Revenue Net Weekly Pay, or pay the employee the appropriate wages without receiving a subsidy refund.

However, the reference period for the calculation of average pay is January and February 2020, when those on maternity leave would have been receiving maternity benefit, a social welfare payment.

“Therefore, workers now find themselves in a position whereby their employers’ options are to pay them without receiving the assistance that the TWSS offers or lay them off so that they can access the pandemic unemployment payment,” the letter states.

“This discrepancy impacts most acutely on low-paid women workers whose employers do not top up maternity benefit, and who have been reliant on statutory maternity benefit for the duration of their maternity leave, expecting to return to work on full pay.”

Resolve

The three organisations called for the Minister to resolve this issue as soon as possible so women returning to work “have their jobs and income protected”.

A spokeswoman for Revenue said the “overarching ambition” of the TWSS is to “retain the link between employers and employees to the greatest extent possible for when business picks up after the crisis”.

“The scheme is confined to employees who were on the employer’s payroll at 29 February 2020, and for whom a payroll submission has already been made to Revenue in the period from 1 February 2020 to 15 March 2020.”

The spokeswoman again reiterated the options available to employers of individuals who were not on normal pay in the first two months of the year.

Duncan Smith, Labour TD for Dublin Fingal, also called for Mr Donohoe to “remedy this flaw in the scheme”.

“When schemes like this are introduced in the eye of a pandemic, we do not expect everything to be perfect, but we do expect issues like this to be resolved when raised,” said Mr Smith.

“Going back to work after maternity leave is a stressful enough time. Everything should [be] done by Government to avoid any extra anxieties and pressures.”

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