Thursday, 15 October 2020
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Sick Pay Scheme
2. To ask the Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment the status of his work in relation to the introduction of a statutory sick pay scheme here; the level of stakeholder engagements he has embarked on; and if he has been contacted by persons opposed to such a scheme being introduced. [30805/20]
This question relates to the status of efforts to introduce a statutory sick pay scheme, the level of stakeholder engagement on same, whether there has been a substantial amount of that yet and who it was with and what timeline are we looking at for it.
I am committed to bringing in a statutory sick pay scheme for Ireland as part of my work programme for next year.
Such a scheme would improve workers' terms and conditions, particularly low paid workers, but there are various issues to consider before we establish the scheme.
As a starting point, I presented a draft issues paper on statutory sick pay to the labour employer economic forum, LEEF, sub-group on employment legislation and regulation on Wednesday, 30 September, with a view to commencing a consultation process. We had an initial discussion at the meeting and I asked employers, unions, ICTU and IBEC to consider the range of issues and policy options set out in the paper and submit their views to the Department by this week. I am not sure whether this has happened but we were due to hear back from them this week. Their views will be taken on board and a revised paper will then be discussed at a further meeting of the LEEF sub-group in November. I do not think any stakeholder is rigidly opposed to it. Certainly ICTU is in favour and the employer groups have pointed out that many employers already offer sick pay schemes. Of course, many do not.
There are cost implications and perhaps staffing and competitiveness implications for some companies, so all of these issues will have to be worked through carefully, thoroughly and quickly. Any move to introduce a new scheme that will impose further costs on business, particularly small businesses, cannot be done lightly. It needs to be structured in a way that ensures the benefits to workers, employers and society outweigh any costs involved and that the costs are shared. Micro and small businesses are particularly vulnerable. A statutory sick pay scheme must be balanced with the need to ensure the viability of businesses and the enterprise sector, thereby protecting jobs. Our focus is on getting people back to work as quickly as possible in all regions and all sectors, including the hospitality and retail sectors in particular.
I have committed to moving through the process, including a full public consultation, as quickly as possible and to publish the general scheme of a Bill by March 2021, with a view to having the Bill enacted in the second quarter of 2021 and up and running before the end of next year.
As an important first step on the road to a statutory sick pay scheme, this week the budget reduced the waiting days for illness benefit from six days to three.
We saw just how exposed we are due to the absence of sick pay in some sectors. The meat processing industry is probably the most high profile of these. It is a wet industry and an environment where colds and flus are very prevalent. Obviously this has fed into the risk that goes beyond the industry to the individuals themselves and to society generally. This is unlikely to change before next year.
The Minister mentioned sharing the cost and I ask him to expand on this. Was there anything in the budget about the State side? Most public servants will be covered but not the totality, particularly people subbing in and possibly people employed on an agency basis.
I thank the Deputy. I will have to defer to the Minister, Deputy McGrath, on the public sector side. What was in the budget was the reduction in the number of days to wait for illness benefit from six days to three days. This benefits employees and employers. If people are sick for any reason other than Covid they will now qualify for illness benefit on the fourth day rather than the seventh day, which was the case previously. I intend to bring it back to one or two days next year. This will benefit employees who are sick for reasons other than Covid. If they are sick because of Covid they will qualify for the pandemic illness benefit.
It will also be beneficial to employers who do pay sick pay because it means they can now reclaim more of that sick pay from the Social Insurance Fund. One of the reasons employers pay PRSI is so they can reclaim from the Social Insurance Fund.
We do need to share the cost. The Labour Party's Bill is well-intentioned but it puts the entire cost on the employer. If somebody is out for six weeks the employer would have to pay that person and hire another person to cover the absence. This could be very expensive for a very small employer. It is only fair that the costs should be shared.