Wednesday, 29 July 2020
Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister to the House. I congratulate her on her new portfolio and wish her the best of luck in the coming years. I have no doubt that she will do a magnificent job. She did that in the past in another portfolio and this one will be no problem to her.
The previous Government deserves great credit in pulling everything together in a very short space of time during which the world was hit with this virus. Thousands of people lost their jobs and it was great work on the part of the Government, with great assistance from Opposition parties. Everybody is to be credited for what has taken place.
The staff of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection deserve great credit and a special mention. They received an unprecedented number of calls and had to deal with an unprecedented workload in terms of putting all the schemes and payments in place to make sure that people who lost their jobs as a result of the Government closing down the country received those payments. They may have made mistakes, but when we analyse the sudden action that had to be taken, we can see that they deserve great credit because everything was heaped upon them in a very short space of time. I am sure they worked long hours into the night and at weekends to put all those schemes in place and determine how best to give a payment to people to allow them survive, whether they were self-employed, business people or employees of various companies. They are to be congratulated on that. The State owes them a debt of gratitude for the work they have done. The State was supporting a considerable number of people, with 1.1 million on the State support scheme, and they deserve great credit for putting those schemes in place.
I thank the Minister for clarifying the issue regarding the people on PUP who travelled out of the country. She has clarified that if they travel to a country on the green list, they will receive their PUP. That decision by the Government is to be welcomed, and I congratulate the Minister on doing that, but I refer to people who have to travel to another country not on the green list.They must give notice but do they give notice to the Department or how do they communicate to say they must go for essential work or to relay the travel reason? Do they give the reason to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or would they go to a local Garda station? How should they communicate the reason so the pandemic unemployment payment is not cut? Will the Minister clarify what they should do, where they should go and what notice they should give prior to travelling to a country not on the green list, whether it is essential travel such as in the event of a death, as has been mentioned, or whatever else? That would be welcome.
The first few lines in the Bill indicate what it is about. It states:
An Act to amend and extend the Social Welfare Acts; to provide for a new benefit to mitigate the adverse economic effects of the spread of the disease known as Covid-19; to provide for the attribution of paid social insurance contributions in respect of payments arising directly from the economic impacts of that disease; and to provide for related matters
This Bill will cover payments, as decided by the Government, to the end of March 2021. Does the Bill have a sunset clause or what will happen to those payments after 31 March 2021? Will the Minister clarify that?
There is one other matter related to the self-employed. A number of self-employed people have contacted me, including carpenters, electricians, etc., who work as sole traders. If these people go back to work, they must give up the payment. In some cases they do not know if they will get work full time or if they will get work the following week or in subsequent weeks. They may have work for a couple of weeks but after that they might run out of work. Self-employed people and particularly sole traders like carpenters and people in such trades, and perhaps even owners of small pubs and shops, may not know whether they will do any business or be able to stay open. Their turnover would certainly be well down on the comparable period from July to December 2019.
As their turnover could well be down, those people are in a precarious position. If they go back to work they would lose their payment but they may not be able to continue as self-employed persons. Could such people go back on the payment again? That is the real question. If they go back to employment but it does not work out for them, will the Minister clarify if they could go back on the payment?
I welcome the Bill as it is a great and valuable piece of legislation. It is very badly needed. It puts these payment measures on a statutory footing, as has been mentioned, which is to be welcomed. I wish the Minister well with this legislation and her new portfolio. I look forward to working with her over the years.