Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion
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.