Wednesday, 29 July 2020
Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister and wish her well in the task she has ahead of her. I commend her on the work she has done over the past four weeks. I am happy to support this Bill, which puts the pandemic unemployment payment on a formal statutory basis, which is very important. It allows for paid social insurance contributions for employees directly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, which is correct.
I share the concerns outlined by Senator Ardagh about transfer of information and we must absolutely know how that came about. We also need to have clarity on tax implications so people can be made aware of them.
We cannot help but mention the Debenhams workers around the country who were laid off at the start of the Covid-19 emergency without any redundancy package being agreed. It is very important that everything be done to ensure they are paid what they are owed by Debenhams.
I have some comments on the events and entertainment industry and Senator Frances Black has raised the matter quite a bit in this House. Even before the Covid-19 crisis, 72% of artists earned less than the national minimum wage.The vast majority in the events industry work in annual cycles and the sector has lost at least an entire year's turnover, not just that of a few months. Representatives of the Event Industry Association of Ireland appeared before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. David Mongey spoke about the 45,000 workers the association represents, in an industry that normally generates in excess of €3.5 billion for the economy. Most certainly, that industry has suffered disproportionately in comparison with all other sectors.
Many of the specialist roles that are required in the events industry are highly skilled and industry specific. They were in high demand and short supply coming into this crisis and people will have put significant investment into high-class and high-performing equipment. A large portion of the workforce was not specifically employed in January and February because of the work's seasonal nature and, as such, did not qualify for the temporary wage subsidy scheme. Section 7 may address the following but I am not sure and I would like the Minister to clarify. Post September, the PUP will not cover applicants who are directors of their own companies. Most people involved in the events industry operate through a company. They may be companies working in light or sound or they may be artists or musicians, for example. They should be included.
I also raise the issue of those over the age of 66. In rural Ireland in particular, many of those in the hospitality industry who own small rural pubs, guesthouses or bed and breakfast accommodation are over the age of 66 and they need this money to survive. It is a real shame that they have not been included because they absolutely should be.
Small business owners are finding it hard to get part-time staff back to work because they are better off on the pandemic unemployment payment. I have often heard that from small business owners in Kildare. It is very important to mention that because the owners of many such businesses have to work much longer hours or to close during the working day to do their additional administrative business.