Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020: Motion
Throughout the course of this pandemic the Government has made a habit of prolonging uncertainty for as long as it can. Since 6 January Sinn Féin has called for the existing rates of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, to be extended to give workers some certainty, and for the supports that have been in place to continue. The Government, in its usual way, delayed and delayed in bringing this motion to us today. While we note this delay, we welcome that the existing rates of the EWSS will be extended until 31 March. This will provide much needed certainty for businesses and employees that they will continue to receive the supports at current rates.
Throughout the pandemic, Sinn Féin has campaigned purposefully for increased rates for low-paid workers and for the inclusion under the old temporary wage support scheme, TWSS, of women returning from maternity leave. We also argued for increased rates under the new EWSS when it was first introduced in September.
Another flaw in how the Government designed the scheme was in enabling the taxing of workers under the TWSS. This is because the Government decided to base the wage subsidy on net pay. This resulted in a double reduction for workers. When the new scheme was introduced, we rightly criticised it because it included cuts in wage supports for employers and employees and the removal of all wage supports for the lowest income workers. The pressure we in Sinn Féin applied to address this unjust reduction in supports resulted in the Government agreeing to increase those rates in October. The pressure we continue to apply has seen the Government reversing its decision to reduce these rates again. It must be noted, however, that the Government continues to leave out the lowest paid workers.
The EWSS is not the only issue that needs to be addressed for the sake of our workers and the businesses that are dealing with the prospect of prolonged restrictions and unemployment. Consideration must also be given to reviewing the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, scheme, because currently far too many businesses are excluded. In this context I am referring to the County Tipperary Chamber, and I ask that the Minister notes this. From the feedback the County Tipperary Chamber has received from its network, the CRSS is viewed as being too limited and excludes many businesses that have been directed to shut in the latest wave of restrictions. Non-essential retailers, for example, may receive assistance because of the closures but their suppliers do not. They point out that it is even more important for support schemes to be extended and expanded so that they are effective. They ask that if the CRSS scheme cannot be revised immediately, then new payments would be provided to support businesses that have been forced to close. The chamber warns that without this intervention, the growing debt burden experienced by businesses will likely trigger a wave of insolvencies and job losses that will permanently scar local economies nationally. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, to speak to our chambers of commerce and listen to the challenges that face every community out there, which are not necessarily represented in the confines of Departments.
By leaving matters to the last minute, the Government has little respect for the hard-pressed families and businesses concerned and it seems to be of the opinion that these businesses should be grateful that decisions are actually made. Similar delays are apparent across the sectors, including supports for the additional three weeks’ parental leave, which remains unaddressed three months after the budget. Our student nurses and midwives have been left waiting for recognition for so long that Sinn Féin was forced to bring a motion to the House highlighting how student nurses and midwives have a right to be paid for the work that they do, especially since so many are working beyond their initial requirements. While the extension of the rates under the EWSS is welcome, there is much more to be done and the Government would be well advised to listen to workers and employees, to people who are unemployed, to families and all of the sectors who are having to deal with this crisis in their own individual ways.