Sickness income support and Covid-19

 

Sir, – I am writing with concern at Fintan O’Toole’s column which created the false impression that many workers affected by Covid-19 are not entitled to income support when off sick (“Ireland’s young and working classes are in the Covid-19 firing line”, Opinion & Analysis, September .

While it is true that sick pay is at the discretion of the employer, since March, all workers certified by a doctor as diagnosed with or suspected of having Covid, awaiting a test result or isolating by virtue of being a close contact are entitled to the Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit Payment from the Government.

The amount paid is €350 per week for up to 10 weeks. More than 60,000 people have availed of this so far. Among those entitled are all of those he mentioned in his column: agency workers retained by the HSE, meat factory workers, childcare workers, the self-employed and delivery drivers.

We introduced this new benefit precisely because we wanted to ensure that people did not fear reporting their symptoms, getting tested, or isolating for financial reasons.

Notwithstanding the good take up of this new benefit, there may be some people who are unaware that they are entitled to this payment.

Separately, employees off sick for more than six days with the long-term effects of Covid or any other illness may also be entitled to regular illness benefit for up to two years.

He is correct to identify the fact that Ireland is one of a small number of wealthy countries in which there is no statutory obligation on all employers to provide sick pay, in the way they have to provide paid annual leave, for example. This should change, and I will commence discussions with employers and unions on this shortly.

The terms, conditions and details will have to be worked out, legislated for and, as it will not be a temporary measure, a permanent way of funding it will also have to be found.

But the new Government is up for it.

In doing so, we will be adding to all that has been done in the past five years to improve social protections for workers including the introduction of paternity benefit, parental leave benefit, enhanced maternity benefit, a national minimum wage set at a higher rate than most of our peers, restrictions on zero-hour contracts and the extension of social insurance benefits to the self-employed and those working in the gig economy for the first time, like treatment benefit, invalidity pension and jobseekers benefit in addition to a contributory state pension with no means test. – Yours, etc,

LEO VARADKAR,

Tánaiste

and Minister for Enterprise,

Trade and Employment,

Kildare Street,

Dublin 2.