The Irish Times view on the pandemic bonus payment: recognising those on the front line

Companies in sectors like retail and hospitality that have remained profitable might consider special recognition for their front line staff

Medical staff working in the Covid Emergency Department at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin in January 2021. Photograph: Alan Betson

Medical staff working in the Covid Emergency Department at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin in January 2021. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Government backed itself into a corner last autumn with an unspecific commitment for a pandemic bonus for those on the frontline and a suggestion that this would extend widely across the public service. An announcement yesterday indicates that the cash bonus element will apply only to those on the frontline in the health sector, involving a tax-free payment of €1,000. Separately an additional bank holiday, which will fall this year on March 18th, is intended as a more general gesture to the wider population.

There is no right answer here in recognising people who put themselves at risk for the wider good. But few would quibble with the special recognition of those in the healthcare frontline. Many people took risks during the pandemic, but the level of danger which faced those working in hospitals and nursing homes was generally on a different level. They deserve a payment and while there will be arguments about who exactly qualifies, the inclusion of the general body of frontline workers in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and vaccination and test centres is appropriate.

Other groups will no doubt seek similar recognition, but the Government has probably made the correct call in restricting the payment to the healthcare frontline. Any further widening would be likely to create knock on and even broader demands across the public sector and to raise fairness issues in terms of the private sector, where many have lost their jobs. Indeed, as public spending minister Michael McGrath said, companies in sectors like retail and hospitality that have remained profitable – and many have not – might consider special recognition for their frontline staff. Some have already done so.

The introduction of an additional bank holiday to be held this year on March 18th will involve a commemoration of those who lost their lives to Covid-19. In subsequent years the bank holiday will be in early February, to mark St Brigid’s Day. Those on the frontline in all sectors generally work on bank holidays, of course, though they do receive some extra payment for doing so.

Other groups will contend that they, too, should get similar recognition. No doubt some will have a case. Many put themselves at risk during the pandemic. But the more substantive issue for many groups is their longer-term treatment by the State and how they are supported.

A real acknowledgment of the work of those on the frontline – in healthcare and beyond – would come through longer-term investment and the recognition of a whole range of roles which are often poorly rewarded in financial terms. It will also come through detailed planning to deal with Covid-19 in future. These measures would demonstrate due regard for those who were unexpectedly thrown into the frontline in a pandemic which, of course, is still with us.

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