Wednesday, 29 July 2020
Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I welcome the Minister and wish her well. I commend her on the work she did in her last Ministry. If we are to be fair here, with what has happened in this country, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is a baptism of fire for the Minister as well. It is not simple or easy. I am constantly reminded that while we need to be fair and make sure people are treated as equal, we are in the middle of the greatest pandemic that any of us have ever seen and we do not know where it is going. We have to allow for that to some extent in terms of how the Government reacts and acts on things.
The Government has approved a new Bill to ensure PRSI contributions are attributed to people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment or whose salaries are being supported by the temporary wage subsidy scheme. When enacted, this primary legislation will ensure that people who lost their jobs or were temporarily laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic will be credited with full paid PRSI contributions on their insurance record equivalent to those that they would have made if they remained in work. This means that people who lost their jobs on foot of the public health crisis will not lose out in accessing social insurance benefits. It is also welcome that the social insurance record of workers who lost their jobs arising from the health crisis is maintained. Due to the exceptional circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic the legislation will provide for the award of paid contributions for employees at the same PRSI contribution class as was the case for them immediately before being laid off. This will be important in order to protect the person's entitlement to future payment including long-term payments such as pensions but particularly shorter term payments such as illness, maternity and paternity benefit. That needs to be clearly stated here. It has been sort of pushed away but it is very much part of the Bill. When people are at work and paying social insurance contributions, they are recorded as having made paid social insurance contributions. All social insurance benefits require a minimum number of paid social insurance contributions. In some cases, for example jobseeker's, illness, maternity and paternity benefit, the contribution must be paid within a specific period prior to accessing the benefit.
On the controversy over the pandemic unemployment payment, having talked to the public, there is a concern that some people were treated unfairly. I welcome the fact that the Minister has now said all will be reviewed. I want to put it on the record of the House that a number of small employers have told me they are having difficulty getting part-time workers back. If 90% of these people were not coming back into this country, we also have a difficulty. We must discuss all of the issues. Senator McCallion is shaking her head. She is the one person who said she would like to see Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party supporting one another and supporting the Government. We have freedom of speech here. We are not herded into one corner. I am telling the Senator straight out that we are proud to get up and be able to tell whatever Minister from whatever party what we think. We will not do it in secret or privately. I hope the Ministers will understand this. Clearly I am saying that there is one side of this argument being told. Nobody in this House wants to see anybody unfairly treated. Is it right or wrong that 90% of 2,400 people seemed to be drawing down those payments and were leaving the country? Let us get it answered. I am glad the Minister is doing a review of the situation. From that review, we will get the facts and figures. Whatever way they come out, I hope they will be accepted as an honest assessment of the situation.
I welcome the number of people who can now go onto the Tús and rural social schemes and so on.There is a problem in that, under the current rules, many people on JobPath cannot access Tús and other schemes. I ask the Minister to examine that issue and the potential to fill the positions that are becoming available. I will give her more details later.