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Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty] I cannot overstate the level of anger and frustration felt by many of these workers. The fault lies squarely with the Government.

  I will finish by saying that as we move forward, I look forward to working with the Minister to ensure we have the supports in place to support workers, employment and our economic recovery. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Táimid ag bogadh ar aghaidh anois go dtí Solidarity-People Before Profit.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The public are paying very substantial sums of money to enable businesses to keep going. There is a problem in that we still do not have a system of conditions for the kind of funds that are going to businesses, particularly conditions relating to Covid-19 compliance, to workers who can work from home being allowed to do so, and to how workers are being treated. Anybody who watches the twice weekly briefings from NPHET will repeatedly hear the call that workers should work from home. People should not be leaving their homes if they do not need to do so. There is a repeated and consistent call and it is absolutely necessary if we are to make this lockdown as effective as possible, which will enable us to make it as short as possible.

We all know from our own experience and from the statistics that the traffic volumes in this lockdown have not fallen by anywhere near as much as they did during the first lockdown. In Dublin the traffic volumes fell in the first lockdown by two thirds. This time round they have only fallen by slightly more than one third. The central reason for that is not about people making personal or social trips or anything like that, but is because people are being made, unnecessarily, to go to work. The problem is that the Government has done absolutely nothing about this.

I give an example of somebody who came to me. This has been reported in the newspapers today. An Post Insurance, which is based in Athlone, allowed all of its workers to work from home in the first lockdown, but in this third lockdown has forced dozens of workers to come into work. These workers do not feel safe in work, which is why they contacted me, but they are forced to come into work nonetheless. The real problem is that there is no State authority with any power to do anything about this. This has been an issue now for almost a year. This company is in receipt of significant State money but there is nobody with the power to go in and inspect, to say that these workers should be working from home, to ask why the company is not allowing them to do so, and to say that if the company does not allow this it will be subject to a fine.

I wrote to the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, about this issue generally after many workers spoke to me and commented publicly on social media about the fact that they were not allowed now to work from home. The HSA said that it had no role in deciding whether a company is essential and, effectively, gave the same reply in respect of workers working from home. This is an incredible situation to be in almost a year after the start of the pandemic. The HSA and the unions need to be given the power to inspect workplaces and to fine employers who are not allowing workers to work from home who could be doing so. This scandal is putting the health and the lives of workers at risk. It is undermining our collective effort.

The other issue I wish to raise briefly is the plight of the DAA workers. I have raised it a number of times in the Dáil since the DAA, which receives significant public funds, attempted to use the coronavirus to impose so-called new ways of working which amount, for some workers, to an end of demarcation. These radical changes to workers' rosters are not in the interests of workers. When the craftworkers rejected that imposition and democratically voted against it, the company imposed an incredible 60% pay cut on them. The impact of that on the workers is devastating. One of them contacted me today to say that workers who are unable to pay their mortgages have been forced to give up their jobs as a consequence of the pay cut. This is a draconian approach by the company to try to ram through changes that have not been accepted by the workers and have been rejected democratically by them. It is really an attempt at bullying. As I said earlier, this company receives significant public funds. It should immediately withdraw this scandalous attack on workers, which amounts to a 40% pay cut and a reduction to 60% of wages and time, and withdraw its attempt at imposing so-called new ways of working.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Téimid ar ais go dtí an Rialtas anois agus glaoim ar an Teachta O'Connor.

Deputy James O'Connor: Information on James O'Connor Zoom on James O'Connor I welcome the decision to continue the enhanced rate of subsidy until the end of March 2021 to cover the current period of the public health restrictions. The enhanced subsidy is estimated to cost another €38 million per week, totalling €323 million by the end of March 2021. The EWSS, which has been a key component of the Government’s response to the continued Covid-19 crisis, seeks to support viable firms and to encourage employment during these very challenging times. To date, subsidy payments of over €1.5 billion have been made and PRSI relief worth over €270 million has been granted to over 41,600 employers in respect of over 476,000 employees. The link is vital because it will ensure that when businesses are able to reopen, they will be able to do so quickly. There will be no cliff edge to the EWSS. It is noted that the legislation implementing the measures provided will be in place until 31 March 2021. This legislation also provides that the scheme may be extended until the end of June 2021, if required, and subject to certain procedural conditions.

I would like to take some time to speak about the implications for employees who are on the wage subsidy scheme. It is imperative that employers clearly outline to the businesses that are availing of the wage subsidy schemes that employees have the right to know that they are getting paid because this has consequences for their ability to access credit. I know that many people who were in well-paid jobs before the pandemic cannot now avail of credit from the banks. The banks should be far more willing to engage with people who face these circumstances during this time, circumstances which have nothing to do with them. They should not be treated unfairly or punished for that reason. While I am aware that we do not want to engage in practices of unsustainable lending, the current level of discretion being shown by the banks on this issue is, quite frankly, cold. A far greater level of engagement and flexibility is required by the banks. I call on the Minister to continue to engage with them on this matter. People's lives should not be put on hold any more than is necessary because of this pandemic. The banks are a public service and they should treat the people as such.

This all comes down to the central message that the wage subsidy scheme has been an instrumental part of protecting our economy and many of our enterprises across the country. I ask that employers be honest with their employees. It is very important that there is transparency so that if employees are in receipt of the wage subsidy scheme, they are told about the implications of such by their employers if they are applying for credit or for a mortgage. This has been highlighted to me by a surprising number of people. It has had significant ramifications in many cases for people who have applied for a mortgage. I ask that the Minister might put some focus on this issue.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Are there any other Deputies to speak in the Government slot? No. Bogfaimid ar aghaidh. In the absence of Deputy Martin Browne, I call Deputy Shanahan.

Deputy Matt Shanahan: Information on Matt Shanahan Zoom on Matt Shanahan The Regional Group certainly supports the extension of the scheme because we see it is as very important in providing liquidity and in softening costs on business owners. As a payroll support, we also see it as helping to keep up payments on social welfare contributions, which are very important for those looking at pension entitlements later in life.

On balance, the scheme is relatively straightforward. This seems to be the reaction of many businesses, although I would point out that Revenue can appear to be overbearing in both the process and the criteria. We have already heard about some of the people who have applied under the scheme. I wish to speak about a company which was 0.1% outside of the threshold, having claimed it. Revenue came back to look for the return of the full amount of moneys that had been subsidised. That is not a way to treat businesses which are quite challenged at the moment. They would not be looking for these schemes if they did not have liquidity and business problems. I ask that Revenue might take a little bit more of a sympathetic approach to people in that situation.

The EWSS is a support to payroll but it does not support other business costs. These have been spoken about previously. One cannot talk about softening payroll costs while ignoring all of the other costs that are building, particularly for businesses that are shut down at the present time. I am thinking of people who are still receiving bills for their rent, for leasing, for utilities and for insurance.

Last Updated: 22/03/2021 09:55:43 First Page Previous Page Page of 93 Next Page Last Page