Wednesday, 29 July 2020
Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages
I do not want to drag this out but what I would like, although it is not about what I would like because I am not in this position and none of us in this room is, but those 23,000 taxi drivers and their families, and at least 30,000 or 40,000 musicians, crew, theatre practitioners, artists and performers of various kinds want an answer before the summer recess. Mary Coughlan wants an answer as to whether she should take the gig in the Mermaid Arts Centre. Will the Minister answer the question? We have been looking for answers on this for weeks. It is not as if it is new. He needs to give them the answers. Why are they not included in the groups of people who can benefit from the income subsidy under the definitions in this section? I am talking to the section. I sought to table an amendment to this section to include this group and it was ruled out of order, again for reasons I do not understand. They should be included.
At this stage, because the Bill will be guillotined and rammed through to make sure everyone can go off on their holidays next week, it seems we cannot do anything about it. Will the Minister at least say we will do something and we will give them a basic minimum income, above and beyond which they can earn without losing it, in the same way as he is now doing for thousands of employers throughout the country? They will get the subsidy, they will be allowed to earn and at a certain point, it will be tapered. Nobody is asking for a handout. They are just asking for a floor below which they will not fall. In the case of some people, they are asking that they will not be whipped into working in unsafe conditions where it might be a threat to their health and public health. These are reasonable asks. They are asking for some of the grant schemes to be made available. They do not qualify for the schemes, even though they have the overheads, because they are not rateable and registered for VAT. Will the Minister please respond to these specific issues? I would not sound so desperate, and my desperation is nothing compared to the desperation these people feel. This is the request.
Many of these people did not ask to be in this position. An awful lot of people who work in the arts would love to be directly employed, as a very small number are in the Abbey Theatre but there are only so many jobs in the Abbey Theatre. Perhaps if we had a proper national film industry, as we used to before we privatised all of the studios, some of these people would have jobs and they would be on the wage subsidy scheme. Some of them have been forced into being self-reliant and then they are punished for this fact. Genuinely, I am not trying to be personal but on behalf of these people, who are desperate, who are worried and who are suffering real mental anguish, will the Minister please give them some hope that he will respond to them before the Dáil finishes for the summer?
I agree with everything Deputy Boyd Barrett said. Because we will not deal with it when discussing the Bill this evening, I put forward an idea that we should convene tomorrow in some type of forum or representative group that could discuss this issue. It is a burning question that needs to be resolved. I believe we can resolve it if there is willingness. My concern is, and I am by far the person not to restrict a debate, but there are very important amendments, such as on reducing VAT rates for the tourism sector, that will not be voted on or debated if we continue at this pace.
I thank the Deputy. I have just pointed this out. They are the rules and I am encouraging the Deputies that if they want to reach the amendments and have as many speakers as possible to be brief and to the point. I call Deputy McGrath and I ask him to be brief and to the point.
I will do my best. Whether it is the fact that I am from Tipperary, where the first shots in the War of Independence were fired, whether it is the fact I listen to Rebel Hearts, Rattle the Boards, Des Dillon or Dom O'Driscoll and wonderful ballads and songs-----
Yes, and I am replying to the Minister. How dare he say I am mean and nasty. How dare he. I am representing the people. A survey of 4,100 members of the MEAI discovered that 11.6% could not pay their utility bills, 9.7% had to sell essential equipment, 7% have lost or are in danger of losing their vehicles, which they have to manage because the same vehicle might be used for the family to go to the beach, go to school or pick up the children, and 3.4% are in danger of losing their homes. Is that mean and nasty because it does not sit well with the Minister? A total of 17.4% are dealing with mental health worries as a result of financial stress. Is that mean and nasty? A total of 2.4% have considered attempting self harm. It is shocking.
I am not being personal with the Minister. I am being direct with the Government. There is much about this situation I do not like. We also have the taxis, which Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned. We also have the man in the van and whether they are in vans, lorries or trucks, there are self-employed people out there who cannot get a penny. We also have those aged over 66. I represent them here and I will keep representing them. They have received nothing after all they have done for the country. They are still rearing their families and grandchildren. Many are working in the pubs that have been misled, blackguarded and denied. Anyone aged over 66 has been denied a shilling. They were put out of business by the Government but I am being mean and nasty because I have the audacity to represent them.
The Taoiseach asked me last week what planet I was on. I am on planet Tipperary and planet earth, thank God, and I plan to look after these people. That is all I am doing. I second Deputy Doherty's suggestion that we should have a forum tomorrow or the next day, although the Dáil will not sit that day. If we have to sit Friday or Monday we cannot go for a six-week break and leave these people given 2.4% of them have attempted self-harm. Are we going to allow them to be crushed? They have families. They have wives, families and children. They are trying to cling onto what they do best, which is to give solace through what they do. They are givers and they naturally give enjoyment, solace and support to us in difficult times, as other Deputies have said. I am not being nasty or mean and I do not accept that from the Minister.
I have already spoken privately to the Minister regarding problems with the payment. Some people who were not working between 6 and 13 March do not receive the payment and I do not believe they will. They are seasonal workers. If the lockdown had not happened for a few more weeks, they would have been covered. Bus drivers at a standstill in January and February are not being helped by the wage subsidy scheme because they were not working then.
There is another part to this. People had to be working in January and February to qualify for the scheme so employers are not employing people who were not employed in January or February. There are also people who were working part time in January and February, who will only be covered for the same number of hours by the employers if they are back at work. In many cases, they would be better off on the payment because they are only allowed to work fewer hours but they are not on the payment because they were not working between 6 and 13 of March and they were not working in January and February. I want the Minister to understand this. Bus drivers and hotel workers are all affected by this.
Some hotel workers are back, but none of the bus drivers is back. Their stamps have run out or are running out and they will have nothing for the winter. Perhaps the Minister does not understand, but if one was not working from 6 March to 13 March one was not entitled to the coronavirus payment and if one was not working in the months of January and February one is not entitled to the wage subsidy. That is very unfair, so perhaps the Minister will respond.
Once again I remind Members that section 1 simply deals with definitions in the Bill. I ask them for their co-operation, and I am not looking at any particular Member. Members have made a big effort to table amendments and there are many amendments to be discussed. Some have been ruled out of order and others have not, so we must move on with the Members' co-operation.
I will deal with the issues raised by the Deputies. On Deputy Boyd Barrett's point about the need for a roadmap and the need for artists, especially performing artists, to be clear regarding what their future prospects can be, insofar as that guidance can be given to many at present given the current uncertain times, I will follow up with the Arts Council and the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, on this matter.
If Deputy Boyd Barrett was going to raise such a specific issue relating to an individual and a concert, some notice that he was going to do so would have been helpful. I might have been in a position to give the Deputy the answer, or the answer that great artist wants. In the absence of him doing so, I am not in position to answer the question, but I will raise it with the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, because the Deputy raises a very serious point. Perhaps it is the case, and I hope it is, that because the significant additional funding was agreed in the Cabinet only last week, the Arts Council and interests in that sector have just not had enough time to give the clarity which Deputy Boyd Barrett is seeking. The significant additional funding was announced only recently.
On his point about taxi drivers, I repeat what I said about my willingness to approach the National Transport Authority.
We will debate the issues Deputy Doherty raised when I hope we get to his amendment.
Again, Deputy Mattie McGrath referred to misleading people and blackguarding vintners and pub owners.
At that particular point, the Government was trying to revise the public health guidance that was available to the country. We were trying to prioritise the public health of our country. Again, the suggestion that the Government had in mind anything but the well-being and health of the constituents Deputy Mattie McGrath mentions belittles the seriousness of this issue. I absolutely understand that there are citizens who are deeply worried about their health and are feeling the consequences on their mental health of the terrible period the country has gone through. They are worried about their financial well-being and their homes. I understand that as well as Deputy Mattie McGrath does. However, that is the reason so much has been done to try to support them at a time of need. I will not go through the full list of measures that were introduced out of deference to the point you made, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, about trying to get through the Bill in full.
On the points made by Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, I understand the issue he raised about seasonal workers. The Deputy raised it with me previously and I appreciate its importance. Notwithstanding the important point raised by Deputy McNamara, which I hope we will get to debate later, we have introduced a fundamental change in the wage subsidy scheme to deal with seasonal workers. As the Deputy correctly said, in the current scheme one has to have been working on a particular day in February and the issue he raised is a consequence of that. We have changed the wage subsidy scheme to deal with that matter. It is now a more open and broad scheme. Of course, it has issues and limitations which we will discuss, but we made that change in recognition of the issue the Deputy raised.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 7, to delete lines 25 to 33 and substitute the following: “(I) there will occur in the period from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020 (in this subsection referred to as ‘the specified period’) such a percentage reduction as the Minister may specify in an order made by him or her under subsection (21)(b), in either the turnover of the employer’s business or in the customer orders being received by the employer by reference to the period from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019 (in this subsection referred to as ‘the corresponding period’), as would result in the same cost to the Exchequer as if the employment wage subsidy scheme were to be available to employers who sustained at least a 30 per cent reduction in either the turnover of the employer’s business or in the customer orders being received by the employer from 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2020 by reference to the period from 1 July 2019 to 31 December 2019, when that said cost is taken together with the cost of determining the said percentage and any additional administrative cost occasioned in determining the percentage, such that there shall be no additional cost to the Exchequer over and above that proposed in the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Act 2020,”.
The amendment is rather convoluted and I apologise for that. The reason it is so convoluted is that we sought to submit an amendment that would not be ruled out of order. There are constitutional constraints on what Opposition or backbench Deputies can propose. We all must accept constitutional constraints on what we can do as individuals and on what institutions can do, but I believe debate in this House is more circumscribed than the constitutional constraints require. I hope that will be addressed in due course, but I do not propose to do so now.
I greatly welcome the fact that one no longer has to have been in employment at the end of February to benefit from the employment wage subsidy scheme. That is an advance. Many seasonal workers could not avail of the pandemic unemployment payment because they were not in employment at the end of February, and their employers could not avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme if they subsequently employed them. This particularly affects the hospitality industry on the west coast of Ireland, and I presume it is the same on the south and much of the east coasts outside of our cities where the hospitality industry works probably 12 months of the year. Employers were unable to avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme if they employed somebody whom they had employed last year and in the preceding two years because the person was not employed at the end of February. Now, they can employ the person and that is good news. However, under the conditions set out in the Bill their business must be down more than 30% in the second half of the year. I take issue with that in respect of employers who could not avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme.
There will be employers who were able to avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme and can now avail of the employment wage subsidy scheme. I congratulate the Minister on all that, and I congratulate the Government on the very difficult steps it took in March. I accept that something had to be done, and it had to be done quickly. The good is the enemy of the perfect. Some employers who were able to avail of the wage subsidy scheme will now go on to avail of the employment wage subsidy scheme, but there will be other employers who could not avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme and who are now solely reliant on the employment wage subsidy scheme, and their losses from 1 July onwards will be looked at in determining whether they can avail of that scheme. They could have lost their entire income in the first half of the year. That would not be unusual for seasonal hospitality businesses throughout Ireland.
They were closed until the end of June, effectively. They lost the St. Patrick's Day weekend, Easter, including the Easter Monday bank holiday weekend, and the June bank holiday weekend, and how could I forget the May bank holiday weekend introduced by Ruairí Quinn? These people are therefore down substantially, yet if they earn more than 70% of what they earned last year, they will not be able to avail of the employment wage subsidy scheme. Notwithstanding the fact that they could not avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme because their businesses were not open at the end of February, it seems unfair that now they will be judged only on their losses for the second half of the year, whereas employers who were in employment in hospitality industries which were open at the beginning of March were able to avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme and can go on to avail of the employment wage subsidy scheme under exactly the same conditions. I raised, as did Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and many other Deputies, the unfairness of the predicament facing seasonal employers and seasonal workers at the time, and the Minister said, correctly, that the scheme was not perfect but that we had to do something and that this would be addressed in future. It is not being addressed. It is being addressed to the extent that people who were not in employment at the end of February can now be employed under the scheme but there is an unfairness in the treatment of employers in that only their losses in the second half of the year will be looked at. I ask the Minister to address this.
I apologise again for the fact that the wording of the amendment is convoluted. If the Minister were minded to accept it, he could exclude from its ambit, or at least its broadened ambit, employers who availed of the temporary wage subsidy scheme in order that only employers who could not avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme would have their loss over the entire year looked at in calculating whether they qualified for the employment wage subsidy scheme. I cannot put it any clearer. The amendment is not meant to denigrate the efforts the Government made but merely to point out that there is an anomaly, a fact the Minister has accepted in the past. While a minor part of the anomaly is being addressed, what is not being addressed are the losses faced by hospitality employers the length and breadth of the country and the fact that they could not avail of the temporary wage subsidy scheme until now, whereas lots of other similar hospitality businesses that just happened to be open at the end of February could avail of it.
Before moving on to the next speaker, I will make a general point. The clock is running. Members can see how long is left in the debate. Eighteen amendments were tabled, and Members took trouble to table them. Five are in order. It would be fair if we could get to every single person who tabled an amendment so, with the House's co-operation, we will try to do that. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is the only other person who indicated.
While protecting the individual who contacted me, I wish to speak further to the debate and this amendment with a message I received. It states:
Minister Donohue assured the people that when the PUP was altered to a two tier system, that no one would be worse off after rerate than before the Pandemic. I however am. As you know, myself and [my husband] run a [public house].
Going back a few years, in 2016, this couple realised that an extra income was necessary in order to take pressure off their public house business. Therefore, between March 2016 and December 2018, this person worked at another business and then came back to their public house business in January 2019 and was there until the pubs were asked to close on Sunday, 15 March. The message continues:
We were relieved [and very grateful] when we heard that we would receive €350 each week each as apart from running a home, there were still unpaid bills relating to the [public house]. Not least of these was the monthly €460.00 insurance, which [is obviously a considerable sum of money and which payments] we have managed to keep up every month. No mean feat as you can imagine. I fully agree with the two tier system that has been put in place. It makes perfect sense. However. As a self employed recipient of the PUP, we were reassessed on the year ending December '18. The reason given for this is that some businesses would not have made their 2019 returns yet. So despite earning an average of over €315 per week last year and well over €250 in January/February (I took less for this period as business at this time of year is understandably quiet) of this year, I am now in receipt of €203.00 per week. I have appealed the decision and provided documentation but to no avail. It seems unjust that a PAYE employee has their 2019 and January/February 2020 wages assessed to ascertain which is the higher average wage but as a director of our [small] business who also pays PAYE/PRSI through payroll I am being penalised for taking on a job [in the other business] in 2018. Apparently, the only year that can be used to assess eligibility for the higher rate of PUP if you are self employed (although we are employees of the company) is 2018. I have explained that our returns for 2019 have been made. I sent copies of weekly payslips showing my wage for both 2019 and 2020 but it falls on deaf ears. Surely this can't be right? That the rules are so rigid that they cause the very thing to happen that Minister Donohue assured us would not. I am worse off. Considerably.
This person asked me to raise this with the Minister. The reason I am doing so, with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's permission, is that the case is indicative of an awful lot of other cases of people who have contacted me with the exact same type of anomaly. Neither the Minister nor his Department can foresee every eventuality that will arise, but I am only one small person, a public representative, and if I am getting a lot of calls about this anomaly, surely other colleagues in this Chamber are having the same types of concerns raised with them by constituents who have contacted them. It is a common-thread problem. I am very grateful to get the opportunity to raise it on the floor of the Dáil with the Minister for Finance. I ask him in his considered time to address this anomaly, if he can, for respectable people such as this woman. All she is guilty of doing is her best all the time, trying to run her public house and, as I said, subsidising her businesses by going off to work in another business to try to bring in an extra bit of income to keep the public house afloat. As I said earlier today to the Minister, people are only trying to keep their businesses going. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me the opportunity to raise this case.
Again, I am not trying to curtail Members' contributions - I cannot - but I appeal to them to address themselves just to the amendment at this point and we will move as quickly as we can through the five amendments. We have left behind Second Stage, on which it was open to everybody to say anything.
Would it not be more appropriate if the period assessed for employers to qualify for the wage subsidy scheme was the period of the lockdown, from whenever it was to whenever the hotels got back working again? Would it not be more appropriate to look at that period rather than the period from when they opened a couple of weeks ago for the rest of this year? What is happening does not make an awful lot of sense. Perhaps the Minister could look again at that.
I compliment Deputy McNamara on the drafting of this amendment. It is a masterpiece of drafting and I am sure had to be read on many occasions by those souls who judge what is acceptable and not acceptable before they realised it was acceptable.
To speak to the substantial matter Deputy McNamara raises, the primary qualifying criterion for the employment wage subsidy scheme is that the employer must be able to demonstrate that the business is operating at no more than 70% in either the turnover of the employer's business or the customers' orders received by the employer by reference to the period from July to December 2020 compared with the same period a year ago.
The Deputy's amendment would change this eligibility criterion to a 30% reduction in turnover for the entire year, which is far broader than has been provided for. The employment wage subsidy scheme is an economy-wide scheme that will focus primarily on business eligibility, delivering a flat rate subsidy to qualifying employers on the basis of the number of paid employees on the employer's payroll. This adoption from the temporary wage subsidy scheme will allow employers to rely on the continuation of support over a longer period of seven months while also ensuring that such a support is sustainable and affordable.
As many of the strictest public health restrictions on the economy have been eased, it is appropriate that the level of State subsidy also be moderated, while recognising that the economy is unlikely to return to normal for many for a while yet because of the continued need to observe some requirements such as social distancing. As a result, the employment wage subsidy scheme has broader application than its predecessor in, for example, its inclusion of employees who were not previously eligible, such as seasonal workers and newly hired personnel. It will be in place for longer than its predecessor and trade-offs are, therefore, necessary in relation to some criteria to ensure the scheme is sustainable in cost. All the conditions of the turnover test have been carefully calibrated in that regard and it is expected that this scheme, in its relaunch in a new form, will cost €2.25 billion. It is, therefore, a substantial scheme.
I will deal with the point that was raised by Deputies McNamara and Michael Healy-Rae. The challenge I have with the amendment and the substance behind it is threefold. First, if we were to make this change, it would have a major impact on the overall cost of the scheme. What Deputy McNamara is proposing would not just affect the sector about which he has raised an important concern. Rather, it would have an economy-wide effect. The knock-on effect of the proposal would be highly unpredictable in terms of its additional cost. One thing I am sure of, however, is that it would give rise to significant additional costs in a scheme that is already set to cost €2.2 billion in additional funding.
Second, I respectfully say to Deputy McNamara that there is an inconsistency at the heart of the case that is being put forward. Many of the businesses that have raised this issue, and that are being well served by the Deputy with this amendment, are indicating a dire business or economic outlook for the second half of the year, while also indicating that they expect the trading performance for the rest of the year to be better than the eligibility criteria for this scheme. The inconsistency is that cannot be both. My expectation, as we move through this scheme, is that many of the companies and employers Deputy McNamara refers to will, unfortunately, qualify for this scheme. I use the word "unfortunately" deliberately because these employers do not want to be on this scheme. They want to trade in normal conditions and employ people through their own revenue without needing or expecting a subsidy of this kind from the State. The reason many of them will ultimately qualify for the scheme is that I expect they will meet the eligibility criterion of recording a decline in turnover of 30% or more. If, as we work our way through the year, I find that the eligibility criteria we have set are undermining significantly the viability of many employers, I will examine the matter. What I am trying to do is what Deputy McNamara and other Deputies raised. It is my genuine view that a 70% turnover threshold is one that very many companies, unfortunately, will reach in the second half of this year.
Finally, the extension of this scheme is far beyond the period that many had called for. In order to extend the scheme to the end of the first quarter of next year, we have to look at ways we can ensure that, at a cost of over €2 billion, we are doing what we can to make it more sustainable. Many of the schemes with which this scheme was compared in other debates will come to an end before this scheme does.
I will try to be reasonable by taking 50 seconds if that is okay.
I will address the apparent contradiction raised by the Minister. The difficulty is that some seasonal businesses will, due to staycations, do well in the second half of this year, and perhaps achieve 70% or more of their normal business. However, taken over the 12 months of the year, the position will still be dire. The issue is the failure to take into account the first six months during which they were unable to claim the temporary wage subsidy scheme and incurred considerable losses, whether or not they qualify for payment. They accept that because of staycations and people not holidaying abroad, they will do well and could have 75% of their normal business. That figure is bad but it is dire when combined with a complete loss of business in the first half of the year. That is the difficulty and the anomaly I hoped might be addressed. On that basis, I will press the amendment.
Holly Cairns, Michael Collins, Marian Harkin, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Catherine Murphy, Gerald Nash, Denis Naughten, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Duncan Smith, Jennifer Whitmore.
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Verona Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.
Chris Andrews, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Bríd Smith, Brian Stanley, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Violet Wynne.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 14, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following: “(22) The Minister may make an order under paragraphs (a), (b) or (c) of subsection (21) that pertains to a certain class or sector of business of employers.”.
This amendment deals with the employment wage supports. I agree with the principle of what Deputy McNamara was trying to achieve with the previous amendment, but based on our reading of it, it would have made the situation worse. As he pointed out, certain constitutional requirements are imposed on the Opposition so the amendment had to be worded in a certain way to be voted upon.
This amendment addresses the fact that not all employment, employers or businesses are the same. There is provision within the legislation allowing the Minister to amend certain aspects of it, including how long the wage supports continue, the 30% rate and the rates of payments, through an order or resolution of the Houses. We would like the Minister to be able to make such an order under paragraphs (a), (b) or (c) of section 2(21), which are the parts of the Bill that pertain to a certain class or sector of businesses and employers. For example, he could stipulate that the downturn for businesses in the arts sector does not need to be 30%, but could be 20% or even higher. Conversely, we may find out later in the year that things are going better than hoped in the retail sector and that there is a pent-up demand there. We do not want legislation that applies the 30% rate across the board because not all sectors will function in exactly the same way. That is the type of proposal we are making in this amendment.
I will raise a number of issues regarding the section now, as we are pushed for time.
I am one of the Deputies who have acknowledged the importance of the TWSS. I wrote to the Minister about bringing in an income support scheme before one was brought forward and it has played a vital part in supporting jobs and keeping businesses afloat. I am, however, concerned that this scheme is being tapered too early and too quickly. One of our amendments, which has been ruled out of order, sought to extend it.
It will end now, but it will be replaced with a new employment wage scheme. One concern we have is that the new scheme will have a lower rate of support for employers, but I also want to raise other issues. On page 6, for example, in section 28B(1)(b)(i), the case is made that a proprietary director would not be entitled to this support. That is relevant to somebody who has ordinary shares of 15%, or more, in the company, but that would be the normal case for many small businesses. They would have been able to benefit from the current scheme, but they will not be able to benefit from this one. The question is how that will impact on those businesses. Other provisions are fair, such as that which states that someone who is a related person should not be able to avail of this scheme unless they were working beforehand. Those types of protections are important, but let us look again at the proprietary director in this instance to ensure this is not unfair to them.
I am very concerned that there is now no support whatsoever for employees who earn less than €151.50. Some 153,000 workers are in that position in the State, and while some of their employers are availing of the TWSS, that will end in a few weeks. Some of the workers concerned are on the minimum wage and working less than 15 hours a week. If an employer has to make tough decisions about letting employees go, then obviously that employer will now decide that it will be these lowest-paid employees who will be let go because there will be no subsidy from the State to keep these people in employment.
There is a way to deal with this issue. In an amendment that was ruled out of order, we proposed that a support of 85% for these low-paid employees should continue. Consideration should be given to that proposal so that we will not have any perverse incentives. It is possible that the opposite situation could also occur, where employers would increase the hours of those employees and bring them up to the requirement. In this constrained environment, however, there is a disincentive at work here. A proportional wage support, a percentage as opposed to a flat rate, for these individuals would be worthy of consideration. I would love to touch on other issues regarding section 2, but we are pushed for time, so I am going to leave it at that.
I support this amendment. It is another way to try to address the deficiencies in the Bill and the need for sectoral-specific approaches for those sectors hit harder than others. We have gone through the debate, and I do want to extend it, but I have one additional appeal to make to the Minister. He asserts, and it is a fact, that we cannot further amend this Bill now. In addition to the suggestion that he should talk to the NTA about the taxi drivers and listen to the points made concerning the arts, music and entertainment sectors, will he respond to the request that before the Dáil winds up for the summer there would be a meeting between party groups to look at those sectors? That is what this amendment is trying to do and it is right that we should have that sectoral-specific response.
Even while listening to the debate, some of the people affected have been texting me with heart-breaking stories that I do not even want to read out here because they are so upsetting and personal. Those people are begging and it is a pity they have to do that. It would be very much appreciated, therefore, if the Minister responded positively to the suggestion made by Deputy Doherty earlier that we meet to discuss some of these specific issues before the Dáil recess. These issues are not limited, by way, to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. They cover several Departments, including the Minister's, as well as the Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Business, Enterprise and Innovation. I refer to addressing these really difficult concerns.
Turning briefly to this section, all my amendments have been ruled out of order. That is unfortunate and I do not quite know why. It is bad enough that we have had no pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill and that all Stages are being taken together. The Opposition, however, has bent over backwards to be accommodating. Then, our amendments, which I think are reasonable, to attach some conditions regarding workers' rights to the subsidies being given to employers have been ruled out of order. I do not understand why. If the Minister will respond, however, does he not think that there should be conditions applied to those getting substantial subsidies? Those subsidies are important and nobody here is arguing against them. We support them to keep people in employment, but there should also be some responsibility on the employer to recognise trade unions, if people in workplaces are members of trade unions. Certainly, anti-union companies should not get support without being forced to change their attitude towards workers and the right to be in a trade union.
Conditions, therefore, should be attached to these supports to ensure that employers are not engaging in unilateral redundancies, cuts in pay and attacks on working conditions without consulting their employees. The principle of the pandemic is that we are all supposed to be in this together, so employers should sit down with their employees and discuss any proposed changes. A basic condition of these supports should be that no company getting them should be making excessive profits or giving big bonuses or pay increases to CEOs, when other people, including workers and the self-employed, are really suffering. Nobody should be profiteering off the back of this crisis and these public supports, which we must not forget are paid for by all the people.
Finally, in this section we had an amendment regarding the subsidy not applying in cases where people were earning less than €151.50 per week. I would like the Minister to explain that exclusion, because there is a real danger that employers may decide that if they do not get a subsidy for employees, who are often part time and often women, working for only a few days and earning less than €151.50 that they will be the first to be let go. That would be unfair and would hit some of the most vulnerable lowest-paid workers. I do not understand why the Minister inserted that exclusion and I wish he would explain it. I ask him to ensure the scenario I described cannot happen and that those workers do not lose out because of the way the subsidy scheme has been designed.
I did, and I will raise some issues regarding this amendment. On Second Stage, I raised these issues but there was no opportunity for the Minister to respond then. Given the substantial subsidies involved, and it is only right that that should be the case, there should also be some conditionality attached. One obvious area concerns conditions of employment. The Minister could have used this as an opportunity to ensure that employers treated workers properly regarding the right to collective bargaining and the right to representation in the workplace. It is regrettable that opportunity was not taken. The previous cut to the VAT rate could also have been used to ensure better quality employment, particularly in tourism and hospitality where conditions of employment are the worst of all industries.
We could have achieved a lot by attaching conditions to the previous VAT cut. That was a missed opportunity. The Minister should consider attaching similar conditions to the subsidies proposed in this legislation.
I earlier raised the issue of the cut-off figure of €151.50. It is difficult to understand why a subsidy is not being provided and perhaps the Minister would explain that. Why has he fixed that minimum figure of €151.50? My concern is that there is now a strong temptation for employers not to pay anybody less than €151.50 and it seems there is a strong incentive to achieve that by changing people's work rosters. That could easily entail people being expected to work longer hours regardless of whether that suits them in order to bring them up to that minimum figure. The corollary of that could be that other people in the company will have their hours cut to maximise the subsidies an employer can draw down.
The way in which the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, is to be implemented is by means of a new PRSI class. There will be significant difficulties in implementing the scheme but if it happens, it will continue to mark or highlight an employee's payslip which, when viewed by banks or other third parties, could very much disadvantage that person in terms of being able to get a mortgage, loan or whatever. The Payroll Software Developers Association has drawn this to the attention of the Department and is providing an alternative way of processing payroll. I ask that the Minister remain open to the proposal of that organisation.
There will be substantial employer PRSI savings coming out of all of this. I wonder about the long-term implications of that for the Social Insurance Fund. Given that the level of employer PRSI in this country is much lower than it is in our European neighbours, that is a retrograde step. We should not be facilitating what might be close to a zero rate PRSI contribution from employers.
I will speak to the section, if I may. I introduced an amendment that was, unfortunately, ruled out. It related to the notion of attaching social and employment conditions to the enormous bundle of taxpayers' money and borrowed cash that we will be injecting into the economy in the next period. It is not a radical idea and is done routinely across the European Union in one fashion or another.
I am a great believer in, and was a supporter of, the introduction of the temporary wage subsidy scheme. In many ways, I think it was the best example of social partnership in practice. The Government, trade union movement and employers essentially came together to design a scheme quickly in order to support businesses, working people and the State through a difficult time. I understand that this particular scheme was obviously developed in the dark of night and was turned around very quickly to ensure people got cash when they needed it most and companies would not close their doors, would be maintained and continue to operate, and the relationship between the employer and employee would continue and give people hope for the future in dark times.
I was hopeful that the Minister might respond to my repeated calls, and those of others, for the attachment of conditions to this new scheme that is being proposed and which I support. As I said on Second Stage, the Labour Party and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions proposed the evolution of this scheme into a German-style short-term work scheme with conditions attaching to it. One of those conditions should have been a requirement to ensure that recognised training opportunities were provided under the scheme because, as I have said ad nauseamin this Chamber and elsewhere, we have one of the lowest levels of in-work training in the European Union. Our future competitiveness and productivity will depend on the agility, skills and experience of our workforce.
This is a golden opportunity for the State to paint a picture of a better future and leverage its authority and power to try to create better outcomes for working people. I say that with a couple of particular sectors in mind. We know the tourism and hospitality sectors require State support at the moment. They have been at the front of the queue and made some serious demands on the Government. I understand that. However, one never hears the voice of the worker in those sectors because it has been crowded out. Those workers are working in precarious conditions, on a low rate of pay and have very little prospect of a future horizon and full-time career in that sector because of the precariousness and uncertainty involved. This was an opportunity not to reinvent the wheel but to impose a condition on employers who are benefiting from this scheme, for example, those in the hospitality sector, to engage in the joint labour committee system. That system has been legislated for in this country since 2012 but is routinely vetoed by employer bodies who want to drive down labour costs, flip staff as much as they can and demand maximum flexibility from them.
The joint labour committee system works very well in the contract cleaning and security sectors, where good, progressive employers come together with trade unions to develop customised solutions for their sector based on decent pay, a level playing pitch for doing business and decent conditions. It has worked very well but, routinely, the hospitality sector, including restaurants and hotels, has decided that it does not want to engage and that veto continues to be permitted. Unfortunately, the previous Government voted down legislation developed by me and my Labour Party colleagues in the Seanad late last year which would have ended the employer veto. Sectoral collective bargaining is the norm across the European Union. If we are to develop ways in which we can tackle market and income inequality in this country, this is how to do it.
In the same way that we did not attach many conditions to the bank bailout, there are no conditions on the cash that will be pumped into various businesses over the next period. I accept that the cash injection is required but here is an opportunity to do something different, to try to rewrite the rules and make Ireland a little bit more equal. Unfortunately, we have failed to do that and failed to use this opportunity. I wonder sometimes if we ever learn the lessons of the past. We have a problem with low pay in this country that is haunting us today and will haunt us for generations to come. Some 23% of all Irish workers are considered to be low paid. That is not something of which we should be proud and, in post-pandemic Ireland, we should not accept that any job will do.
I appreciate that. I thank the Deputies for the variety of matters they have raised. I will deal with each of them in turn.
I will deal first with the amendment tabled by Deputy Doherty. I am very much aware of the issue the Deputy has raised. His point was that different parts of our economy are now beginning the slow journey into recovery at very different speeds.
For some parts of our economy that will be a long journey; a journey some have not yet begun. That is why we are making changes to the temporary wage subsidy scheme and making it an economy-wide scheme.
To speak to the Deputy's point, I considered very carefully going down the route his amendment indicates. As I understand it, the amendment endorses an economy-wide approach but would give the Minister for Finance of the day the ability to have sector-wide differentiation if it was judged to be necessary. This was something I considered. In the first phase of putting the Bill together, I considered whether a sector-specific scheme would be the right way to go. As I said, different parts of the economy are now moving at very different speeds.
The difficulty I quickly ran up against was twofold. The first difficulty was how to define a sector in a way as to make it clear legally what companies, employers and parts of the economy are and are not entitled to avail of the scheme. It was so difficult to come up with a legally operable definition of what a sector is that I felt it was not worth pursuing in this particular change because it would only create further difficulties down the line. For example, how would the Government deal with a company or employer that trades in different sectors such as, for example, tourism, transport and retail?
The second difficulty that meant we did not go down this route was that if it was sector specific, it could have raised state aid issues regarding support for some parts of the economy and not others. On a practical level, an issue would quickly develop in respect of which sectors would be left out of the scheme. I have little doubt that if we went down a sector-specific route in designing the scheme, Deputies would ask for sectors to be included and would probably make good points as to why.
I fear that the challenges we have ahead of us are still so great that an economy-wide scheme is still appropriate. As the scheme evolves organically, it may be the case that the scheme will be concentrated in particular sectors, as opposed to it being what it is now, that is, an economy-wide scheme. That is why I am not accepting the amendment and why we did not use that model for the design of the employee wage subsidy scheme.
I will deal with the other issues raised by Deputy Doherty. He raised the issue of the €151.50 floor for this scheme. Having considered the matter, I believe that a floor of €151 is worth putting in place for the employee wage subsidy scheme for two reasons. It is my expectation that employers would look at the choices they have. They can pay people less than €151 and get no subsidy or they can pay them above €151 and get a subsidy of €150.
I want to create a dynamic which is the opposite of what Deputy Doherty said will happen. Employers will realise that if they pay people €145 they will not get a subsidy, but if they pay them €155 the State will make available a subsidy of €150. That will create a dynamic that could be positive in terms of some of the wage issues raised by Deputy Nash. It is the right ceiling to have for a subsidy, with the possibility of creating a dynamic that rewards workers and, I hope, enhances the number of hours they have available to them and the gross wages they take home at the end of a week.
In addition to that, €151.50 equates to 14, 15 or 16 hours on the minimum wage. It correlates to a level of part-time work. If the dynamic to which I have referred happens, that will offer the possibility of the number of hours worked or gross wages increasing.
If that does not happen, I refer the House to sections 28A(4) to (6), inclusive. These provisions give the power to the Minister for Finance, in conjunction with the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Employment Affairs and Social Protection, to make the variations to the scheme deemed necessary.
After two months of the operation of the scheme, I am required to conduct an assessment of its operation. I have the power to make adjustments that I believe are necessary. This is an issue I will keep under review because it is not my intention that those who suffer in respect of the hours they work or the wages they receive are part-time workers or those on very low incomes. By putting in place this measure, as described, I seek to create a dynamic that moves in the other direction.
Reference was made to proprietary directors. It is correct to say that a provision involves a change to the temporary wage subsidy scheme. It is a standard measure that is being introduced to deal with compliance issues for schemes like this. As has been said by a number of Deputies, in order to be a proprietary director a person has to have more than 50% of the shares issued for his or her company. This scheme is about supporting employees and allowing owners and employers to keep businesses going. This change will not create some of the difficulties to which Deputies have referred but I acknowledge that over the past 24 hours I have received correspondence on this measure from small companies who have raised concerns. It is something I will review as the EWSS gets up and running.
I want to avoid being in a situation where in a few months' time, Deputies ask me why particular forms of directors are benefiting from the scheme. I seek to proactively deal with this issue. I acknowledge that I have received correspondence on the issue and when the scheme is up and running, I will review its impact on smaller employers and directors of small companies.
Deputy Shortall raised some issues I have already covered. She also raised the issue of employer PRSI and our PRSI code. I am very much aware of the need to maintain employee PRSI contributions during this period. My understanding is that the subsidy scheme will maintain employee PRSI contributions during the lifetime of its existence.
On the point the Deputy made on employer PRSI, I am aware of the issue she has raised. I was aware of it when I was a Minister in the last Government. We now have to fund sick pay for many citizens very quickly.
The issue raised by the Deputy on employer PRSI is an increasingly fair one and the programme for Government refers to the issue of PRSI contributions. This is not an issue for today, at a time in which we are trying to keep many companies and employers going. We are trying to get our economy back into better condition but it is something we will have to look at in the lifetime of this Government. I am watching debates ensuing elsewhere regarding somebody having to suddenly self-isolate and how he or she will do that if his or her employer does not make certain levels of sick pay available. The issue of how we fund sick pay and some of the issues we have on how we fund better benefits for the self-employed, for example, mean we will have to consider the future of how we fund our social insurance system.
Deputy Shortall also referred to the issue regarding the coding and reference of the employee wage subsidy scheme on employees' pay dockets. I will look at the issues raised by the Deputy and I am aware of issues raised by the Payroll Software Developers Association. That group has been the hidden heroes of implementing this scheme. I want to thank it for the work it did because were it not for the IT ingenuity of its members, we would not have been able to do this. A group of software engineers, over a few days, changed a system we used to collect tax revenue to suddenly make it the system in respect of how we pay people. I want to record again my thanks to them.
The Deputy also referred to significant implementation difficulties. I am not aware of them. Perhaps the Deputy will clarify what they are. This scheme has been really well implemented, very quickly and for many employees, so Deputy Shortall might clarify what they are.
Regarding the issues raised by Deputy Nash on collective bargaining, union representation and the rights of employees, I know they are important. As to why they are not included as qualifying criteria for this scheme, the rationale is that the purpose of this scheme is to keep people in a job and maintain their incomes insofar as we can. I do not want to be in a position where I bring in qualification criteria for the scheme that deal with what I understand and know to be legitimate matters the Deputy has raised, only to suddenly find out that companies are not qualifying for this scheme and employees then lose their jobs because of that. The issues raised by the Deputy need to be the basis. We may make further progress on them and, in fact, will need to make further progress on them in this Dáil but the route to take to do it is not the wage subsidy scheme as it is currently designed. I do not want to make changes to this scheme now that jeopardises jobs across what I fear could be a difficult August and September for many different employers.
To go back to a point made by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan on Second Stage earlier, the dialogue we need to have with employers in future will need to change in the post-pandemic era. As for this scheme, which is now on the statute books, I hope to be in a situation in which I can wind down and close it at some point in my tenure as Minister for Finance, because that would reflect the fact we had got back to a degree of normality within our country in terms of people's incomes, their work and the number of people at work.
I am convinced of the need for a scheme like this and for the principles of a scheme like this to be available to a Government quickly. If this had been in place in those early days when the pandemic hit, we could have acted even quicker. I take responsibility for it not being in place. In the context of a framework like this, it needs to be a quasi-permanent feature of how we support jobs and income when incredibly catastrophic things happen to an economy. In that context, we need a new debate with employers regarding what the other side of the deal will be. While I do not believe this is the place within which we should do it, that debate is coming.
We are not pressing the amendment. We are pressed for time now and I would love to be able to get to amendment No. 16. which proposes the reduction in the VAT rate from 13.5% to 9%.
I am not sure the Minister has the power to introduce a percentage support under the powers he announced. He would have the power to vary the rates but that would just be to bring it down from €151 to a lower level. A lot of people work just a couple of hours in employment. I know many of them who work in numerous jobs. The reality is that they will not get bumped up to €151. That cannot be done artificially, it must be done in the normal course of things.
I agree with a wide support for the economy currently. All I was doing in this amendment was what the temporary wage subsidy scheme did, that is, give the Minister the powers to vary the rates and the level of turnover for specific sectors. We used the same language that was signed off on by the Attorney General in previous legislation that has passed through both these Houses. Where there is a will, there is a way. It is a way if we need to, because we do not know where the economy will be in two or three weeks, never mind two or three months. It allows the flexibility for the Minister, upon a resolution of the Dáil, obviously, to vary rates for groups of workers.
That said, I am not pressing the amendment.
I would like an answer to the questions I asked on the section. There was a specific request to discuss those sectors that are in trouble before the Dáil session ends. Is the Minister open to that, given he expressed sympathy for the sectors mentioned?
This amendment was attempting in another way, as had some of our amendments, to address the concerns of those groups that we have talked a lot about tonight, namely, the arts workers, the music workers, the defence workers and the taxi drivers. If the Minister is genuinely empathetic to their plight, is there an openness to discuss those matters with party groups or, indeed, with some of their representative groups before the end of the Dáil term or some point soon?
The Minister did not really respond to the issue of conditionality raised by me and by Deputies Shortall and Nash in trying to attach some conditions in terms of collective bargaining rights, trade union rights and examining the profitability of some firms to ensure nobody is taking advantage and people are not getting the support they should not be getting. The Minister might just respond to those points.
I never said I had the ability to bring in a different percentage contribution for which Deputy Doherty is calling. I simply made the point that I have the ability to vary some of the operation of this scheme during its lifetime. I also know many people, as does the Deputy, who are in part-time work and who have many different employers. I take his point that it is unlikely they will go from two hours to ten hours. It is possible, however, that the employer of somebody who is on ten hours may decide to employ them for two or three hours more and get a €150 subsidy for so doing. That is possible and we should be open to the fact that could happen.
The Deputy referred to the term "sector".
The term "sector" has been used in legislation, but it does not have any precedence in legislation such as this. We assessed this and found we could not access a term of sector that would have been legally viable for this approach here. Practically we would have ended up with all kinds of issues with one sector of the economy claiming it was getting the subsidy at one rate but wanting it at the other rate that another part of the economy was getting, and some parts of the economy claiming they were not getting this subsidy at all but their neighbours in a particular part of the economy were. I am very sceptical of whether it would have worked. As I said, I considered it earlier when putting this all together.
In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, I answered the question about conditionality that was put to me by Deputy Nash. I answered at some length outlining why I felt it would not be appropriate. Deputy Boyd Barrett again said a measure of my empathy is whether I will meet people. The measure of my empathy is first what I can do through schemes such as this to try to support workers throughout our economy, which is what this scheme has done. I have raised this issue with the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, since the Deputy first raised it with me. I have raised directly with her the concerns he raised. I hope that, if she sees fit, she would be able to meet him or listen to issues that have been raised by the groups he mentioned. I must act in deference to her. As she is the Minister with responsibility for those areas, it is appropriate that she engages with those groups first rather than my doing so.
I think those were all the questions that were put to me.
I really do not want to stretch this because I know Deputy Doherty wants to get to his amendment. What the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, told me was the direct opposite of what the Minister just said. I do not accept this pass the parcel. I talked to her the other day. I asked questions and she said insofar as the resources allocated to her have been made available, she had put in some supports. That was her point about the €25 million. When it came to the issue of income subsidies, she told me I needed to talk to the Ministers for Finance, and Employment Affairs and Social Protection. That is the truth. This pass-the-parcel stuff is not good enough.
This is why it is totally relevant to this Bill. We need an answer. Will there be an income subsidy for all these people in the arts and music area? It is not just the artists; it includes the crews and so on. It is not just an arts issue. In fact, the events people are very keen to say they are not even defined as arts. It is about income supports for sectors that have been decimated by the pandemic measures. The same point goes for the taxi drivers. I ask the Minister not to pass it off to the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin. We need to know if the Government is even interested in looking at this. That is the question and an answer would really be appreciated.
I wish to reply to the Minister. My understanding is that the Payroll Software Developers Association, PSDA, identified implementation difficulties. I cannot itemise them, but I understand it did. Does the Minister accept it is not a good idea to have an indication or a mark on a payslip showing that the employee was in receipt of a subsidy because there are negative implications of that in terms of borrowing?
Regarding the floor of €151.50, many people are quite happy and are only in a position to work ten or 12 hours. What is the Minister's thinking on that? Why did he pitch it at that level? Does he accept that employees may come under pressure to increase the number of hours they have to work, which may not suit them? At the same time, other employees may have hours cut. I do not fully understand the rationale for setting that floor.
I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for his questions. I am not passing anything off. I am introducing an economy-wide scheme. What is implicit in bringing in an economy-wide scheme is that I am not at this point proposing to bring in anything that is different sector by sector. I think it is clear in this legislation that we are looking to introduce a scheme that benefits as many people as possible. I would have thought that would have been welcomed. I think the Deputy has welcomed it in the contributions he has made.
Even his own address on the issue highlighted the difficulty with this approach. He started off with one group in the country, artists, who do need support. He then went group by group through many others who also need support. When we are in the level of economic shock we are now, the best way to respond is to help everybody equally by the same amount, which is what this scheme does. Everybody is being treated the same way. They are principles of equality that I would have thought the Deputy would recognise and welcome. Everybody is being treated equally by this scheme, which gives everybody the same rate provided that the company employing them meets the criteria.
Before I come to the points Deputy Shortall made, I know some people who are very worried about their future are watching tonight's debate. I know many workers are concerned about where they will be going in the future and they are tuning in to listen to my words. Again, I say this to those who are looking at the debate on this important legislation. The reason €2.25 billion is being invested in this programme is to help them at a time of such great need. With respect to what Deputy Nash said earlier, the conditionality of this scheme can in no way be compared to the bank guarantee. We helped banks and God knows we have had many debates about that in this House and elsewhere. This is about helping people to keep their jobs and about helping small employers to keep going.
Deputy Shortall questioned whether this should be referenced on an employee's payslip. I think there are two reasons for doing so. First, employees should know the level of subsidy that is being made available to them by the State through the taxes they have paid in more normal times. It allows them to check that versus the wages their employer is paying them. It is important to know that. The other reason it is appropriate to know is that it is an appropriate signal to send to citizens that the State stood by them at this time of need. The wage subsidy scheme, which is enabled by the way we ran our economy for many years, even though Deputy Shortall did not have much good to say about at that time, is now funding a programme of more than €2 billion to help people at a time of need. It is appropriate that they know that contribution is there. It is also appropriate that they can compare that contribution with the wages they have.
The Deputy made a point about the assessment for mortgages and other loans. I reiterate that this must be done on a case-by-case basis. We have a shared interest in ensuring that mortgages are not issued only to find out later that they are not affordable. I have experienced at first hand the enormous strain and stress caused by that. We do not want that to happen again. The Central Bank has been very clear about the implementation of proper lending across the period. It is in the long-term interest of all.
I am not aware of the issues she mentioned on behalf of the PSDA.
As I have said, the scheme has been implemented really well by the Revenue Commissioners. The challenges we have had along the way have not been related to the system. That is due to the expertise of the Revenue Commissioners and the amazing ingenuity and technical ability of the software designers and payroll designers who worked with them in implementing this scheme.
I thought this section had been disposed of. There are a number of amendments tabled which we have taken considerable time to devise. We are not going to be able to scrutinise all of the Bill. The next amendment reduces the VAT rate in the tourism sector from 13.5% to 9%. I would appreciate it if Members would facilitate a vote on that important measure which many who are watching hope will be included in the legislation. I will leave that to Members.
I will speak briefly to the section. I have listened intently as the amendments have been gone through in considerable detail. My contribution will be very brief. I welcome the Minister's commitment to look at the issue of proprietary directors. There may be six proprietary directors in a company holding 15% each. Their situation is slightly different from that of self-employed people. They come under the existing scheme and should come under the new scheme in the interests of continuity and maintaining all employees. They are formally registered employees of their companies. I very much welcome that the Minister is looking at the issue. With regard to the administration of the scheme, it would make sense for proprietary directors to be included in the new scheme. I welcome the Minister's commitment to look at the matter in detail.
I want to be clear; this Bill will be implemented as passed by the House. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the reference to directors in the Bill that is causing concern is an important compliance measure. As I have told Deputy O'Donnell and others, I have received correspondence on this issue in the past 24 hours. The Bill will be implemented as intended and as passed by the House but I will have a look at the issue before that happens because it is not my intention to penalise or to cause difficulty for small employers or the directors of small companies.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 32, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following: “Layoffs and short-time
7. If and for so long as—(a) an employer is the beneficiary of the wage subsidy scheme or of special warehousing and interest provisions under the Act of 2020 as amended by this Act, andthen new employees may be hired by the employer only—
(b) one or more employees of the employer have been laid off or placed on short-time due to the effects of measures required to be taken by his or her employer in order to comply with, or as a consequence of, Government policy to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of infection of Covid-19,(i) to positions in the workforce where such layoffs or short-time have not occurred, and
(ii) where the vacancy cannot be filled by one of the employer’s employees on short-time work.”.
I will not detain the Minister or the House. I appreciate that time is of the essence. This amendment is designed to prevent situations in which full-time workers are made vulnerable to displacement because it may be more financially attractive for employers to take on a number of short-time staff under the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and to receive that State subsidy. I do not believe anyone would like that outcome. This amendment is designed to protect workers against that. I am interested to hear the Minister's view on it.
The Deputy's amendment seeks to restrict the hiring practices of employers who access the temporary wage subsidy scheme, the employment wage subsidy scheme or the special warehousing and interest provisions of the Bill. The amendment proposes that entry to such schemes would mean such employers would not be able to hire new workers to fill roles vacated due to layoffs or to hire new workers unless the work they are hired to carry out has been already offered to increase the hours of short-time workers.
These schemes are stand-alone measures to support employer viability through an unprecedented period and are based on clear and objective criteria that may be determined by the Revenue Commissioners. Concerns around the manipulation of access to such schemes have been already addressed to the greatest extent possible. It is not appropriate to link qualifications for such supports with matters that are more appropriate to employment law bodies.
As I have said previously, the position in respect of the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the employment wage subsidy scheme does not affect any legal obligations the employer may have to his or her employee as regards the terms, conditions and entitlements of employment. The new section 28B(6) proposed in this Bill provides for safeguards which will achieve what the Deputies aim to achieve in their amendment. It states that, except for bona fide commercial reasons, an employer cannot access the employment wage subsidy scheme if he or she has laid off a qualifying employee and replaced this employee with two or more qualifying employees who work fewer hours with the aim of increasing the number of qualifying employees so that he or she can get an increased subsidy payment.
I am glad we have the opportunity to get to Deputy Nash's amendment because this matter has been dealt with, albeit in a different part of the Bill from that which the Deputy seeks to amend.
Anything beyond the provision I have outlined would be expressly outside of the remit of the Revenue Commissioners. I note, however, that there is a sufficient number of bodies to deal with employment disputes in Ireland in which there is already a high level of expertise. The Workplace Relations Commission is responsible for a range of tasks in this area, including promoting and encouraging compliance with relevant enactments. In employment rights cases, the Workplace Relations Commission adjudicates and, if either party is dissatisfied, its decision may be appealed to the Labour Court. There are already checks and balances in place to ensure fairness to employees and employers. This matter has been dealt with in a different way in the proposed section 28B.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 48, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following: “(b) in paragraph (ca) of subsection (1), by substituting “paragraphs 3(1) to (3), 7, 8, 11, 12, 13(3) and 13B(1) to (3)” for “paragraphs 7(a), 7A and 12”, and”.
The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil on 28 July: "That in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to in Committee, the Title is hereby agreed to in Committee and the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed." Is that agreed?
Could I ask for guidance from the clerk on the judgment you are about to make, Acting Chairman? I have seen a Minister extend the duration of a debate on legislation, despite it being ordered and voted upon, on the floor of the Dáil.
The Deputy has exhausted the procedures. He knows the procedures. This is the Final Stage and that is the order of House. I am complying with the order of the House so since nobody has called a vote I deem that the Bill is passed, which Deputy Doherty knows.
All right. I want to answer Deputy Doherty. He and I well know, as long-serving Members of this House, that at the stage he decided, for whatever reason I do not know, with a split second to spare, it does not happen that way. I am quite within my rights. The Bill is passed and we will move on to the next business, which is Private Members' business.