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Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] Some of the amendments I submitted earlier were refused because they were too late, even though I submitted them before Second Stage. That is unfair. It is not the Minister's fault but I appeal to him to address this matter, even at this late stage. If employers can get a wage subsidy, why can taxi drivers, who are their own employers, not get the same? Why can they not get an income subsidy when their business has collapsed by approximately 80%, which is much more than the required percentage to benefit from the wage subsidy that employers are getting? The Minister can ask any taxi driver who is going out looking for work at the moment. They are getting a fraction of the work, because their previous work was strongly linked to the sectors most hard hit, such as tourism, music, live entertainment, theatres and bars that are now closed. That was a significant volume of their work. It is now gone and they are, therefore, struggling. Taxi drivers have made a few requests, some of which do not even require money. They asked for a step-down income subsidy, which the Government could have put in this Bill; a moratorium on the further issuing of taxi licences, given that we have more taxis in this city than in New York city; the ten-year rule for replacing their cars to be changed to 15 years because of all the income they have lost; and to benefit from the restart schemes, from which they are being excluded. They still have fixed costs to cover such as insurance, paying taxi companies and other fixed costs, which were estimated in one recent report to be €11,000 a year. They are being denied even the €1,000 grant from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, never mind the €4,000 grant that is being given to other businesses. How is that fair? I ask the Minister to provide some support for these workers.

The Government's failure to support a particular cohort of taxi drivers is endangering lives and public health, because older taxi drivers aged over 66 did not get the PUP and continued to work during the pandemic, thus endangering their own health when they should have been cocooning. Many of them decided to stop working but are now being whipped back out to work when they do not feel safe doing so. That is unfair and it endangers the public health effort as well as those drivers' specific health. I appeal to the Minister to engage with these workers and to provide them with some supports until their sector, which has been decimated through no fault of their own, recovers.

Similarly, musicians, artists, crews and so on need some support for their sector as well. In many cases, they are not benefiting from the grants and their income supports have been cut due to the PUP cuts. I refer to people who play music in bars or bands that do weddings. There are restrictions on the number of people that can go to weddings, and fewer people are likely to get married in the current circumstances, so there is less work for them. There might be a bit of work available and they might get the odd gig, but it is nothing like it was previously. They need an income subsidy, which is a floor below which they will not go and which they can earn a bit on top of. That is the same principle the Government is applying to employers, so why can it not apply it to these sectors that have been especially hard hit? The Government should do that because its treatment of these workers contrasts with the way it is treating employers. Money is being thrown at employers liberally.

I assume the reason the Government will not give money to arts workers and taxi drivers is that it is afraid they will scam the system. When I asked earlier why the Government was not supporting them, the Taoiseach said that such supports were hard to administrate. That is code for the Government being afraid it will be scammed. This is the same impulse that led to the cuts in the PUP, the travel advice debacle and so on. Basically, the Government thinks that lower-income workers and the less well off are going to scam the system. That is the bias that is operating here, whereas we will throw billions of euro at big businesses and are not too worried about whether they might be scamming us. Many of those businesses are profitable. There are no provisions in this Bill to ensure that big businesses, which are making significant profits, are not ripping us off and taking advantage of the subsidy scheme. There is no scrutiny there and they are not excluded while others are. It is not fair. I appeal to the Minister to be fair, first, because fairness is important in and of itself but, second, because we are all in this together. The social solidarity we will need in the face of Covid-19 for the foreseeable future will be absolutely wrecked if the Government continues in this manner. Many of these workers have expressed a lot of anger and despair about this.

Finally, employers that are being given the subsidy should not get it unless they recognise trade unions. If they are guilty of collective redundancies, unilateral pay cuts or taking advantage of this wage subsidy, they should not get it. There should be conditions attached to big and profitable businesses benefiting from this subsidy to guarantee the rights of workers.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry I will share the remaining time with Deputy Paul Murphy, who will be present shortly. I will refer to the July stimulus but I will first make some specific comments about the TWSS and the PUP. I welcome the fact that the payments are being continued into 2021, albeit with the TWSS under a slightly different guise. However, I do not welcome the fact that the PUP is due to be cut on 17 September and that workers who are out of work through no fault of their own will be forced to take pay cuts of between €50 and €100 a week. The Government's July stimulus package will give more than a few people in such circumstances a nasty September shock.

Though I am here to discuss these payments, I will also comment in passing on the U-turn the Government performed this morning regarding the PUP and holidays. That U-turn shows two things about this Government. First, it shows that there is a basic right-wing instinct in this Government. Second, it shows is that this is a weak Government that can be forced into climbdowns when it takes a step too far or attacks the rights of ordinary people. Ordinary people should take note of that because what happened this morning is significant.

The July stimulus has been hailed as by far and away the biggest stimulus package in the history of the State. It certainly is big in comparison with the past. The question is whether it is big in the context of what is needed now. It represents 1.5% of GDP, but when combined with all the other measures that have been introduced since March, it equates to 4.3% of GDP, which is the European average for such packages, although it is less than Germany's 4.9% or France's 5%. It is well below the US package, at 12.2%, or Japan's, which is more than 20%. The grant aid for small, medium and big businesses is somewhat blind to the question of the size and needs of different firms. For example, a larger company, which may have profited from the pandemic, has a large cash surplus and is paying large dividends to shareholders, is able to tap into the grants through the reduction in VAT, the waiving of rates, and so on.

I strongly support Deputy Boyd Barrett's point that conditions must be attached to grant aid given to small and medium companies. If workers want to join a union and those companies are denying them the right to do so, they should not automatically get the cash. They should also not get any money if they are paying big bonuses to people on the board of directors or if they are not tax resident, and so on. Conditions need to be put on them. Instead of receiving grant aid, big companies that shed jobs should be nationalised. Aer Lingus, which is seeking 500 redundancies, should be nationalised. The lack of scope for direct State-led investment is a huge weakness of this stimulus, and that is a missed opportunity.


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