Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Department of Finance
Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
64. To ask the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that women returning from maternity leave cannot be included in the wage subsidy scheme due to the fact they were not on the payroll in January or February; if measures will be taken to address this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5650/20]
120. To ask the Minister for Finance if the temporary wage subsidy scheme will be extended to cater for women on maternity leave specifically those who were not on the payroll in February 2020 due to their maternity leave; if so, if such an extension will require primary legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6672/20]
129. To ask the Minister for Finance if the Revenue Commissioners will be instructed to administer the temporary wage subsidy scheme in accordance with the maternity protections provided by the Employment Equality Acts. [6857/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 45, 64, 97, 120 and 129 together.
The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) is a temporary emergency measure to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy, intended to maximise staff retention and firm viability by maintaining the link between the employer and employee insofar as is possible through this truly exceptional period. In that regard it is noted that as of 14 May, over 54,100 employers and over 464,400 employees have thus far benefited from the measure.
It ultimately gives a sum to employers to cover a portion of their wage bill in circumstances where the employer’s business has been negatively impacted by the restrictions that have had to be introduced to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The sum the employer receives is based on the employees who were on their payroll on 29 February 2020, the net salary such employees received in January and February 2020, as well as the extent to which the employer remains able to continue to discharge their legal obligation to pay their employees’ salaries.
The TWSS is built upon historic PAYE returns made to Revenue. One of the core principles of the scheme that is necessary to prevent abuse is the requirement that the employees for which a claim is submitted must be on the payroll of the employer as at 29 February 2020. Thus, where an individual commenced a new employment after 29 February 2020, or returned to the payroll of his or her employer after that date following a period of unpaid leave, whether maternity related or otherwise, that salary cannot be included in the calculation of the sum that is available to the employer under the TWSS.
The 29 February payroll decision has consequences for many groups, however, the scheme is being administered in a manner that is fully compliant with all relevant legislation and no discriminatory treatment of workers arises.
Further, the position in relation to the TWSS does not affect any legal obligations that the employer may have to their employee as regards any terms, conditions or entitlements of their employment, including pay. The question of an individual’s employment entitlements following their resumption of work after a period of leave, and the question of what wages an employer may or may not be in a position to pay such an employee are matters between the employee and the employer – and the entire period of pregnancy and maternity leave is a special protected period under the law.
It is understood that although the employer may not be able to claim the TWSS for a person who has not been on the payroll on 29 February but is entitled to return to work after this date, they remain obliged to honour their obligations as an employer as the full suite of employment rights legislation continues to apply in relation to all employees and their employers for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
As regards the operation of the TWSS, I am aware of the matter that has been raised by the Deputies and have instructed officials to re-examine whether such workers may be accommodated at this time within the scheme.
The Government’s priority in so far as the Temporary Wages Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) is concerned was and is to ensure that all employers experiencing significant negative economic disruption from COVID-19 can register for and start to receive payment quickly. The purpose of the scheme is to ensure that the relationship between employers and employees is maintained to the greatest extent possible so that businesses can restart operations quickly once that becomes possible. The scheme is available to eligible employers across all sectors, excluding the public service and non-commercial semi-state sector, this includes businesses that have closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions and those that continue to operate and employ their workforce. The main eligibility criteria for the scheme are that:
- the business is suffering significant negative economic impact due to the pandemic;
- the employees were on the payroll at 29 February 2020; and,
- the February 2020 payroll submissions were submitted to Revenue before 15 March 2020.
I have been advised by Revenue that following a review of cases since the TWSS commenced, it became apparent that a number of employers have been unable to access the scheme because they failed the 15 March 2020 rule, but had qualified under all other conditions of the scheme and were otherwise tax compliant. Given the purpose of the scheme, Revenue decided, under its care and management provisions, to allow such employers access the scheme provided:
- the employees in respect of whom the wage subsidy is claimed were included on the employer’s payroll on 29 February 2020
- the February 2020 payroll submissions were submitted to Revenue before 1 April 2020, and
- the payroll submissions for all previous months were submitted to Revenue before 15 March 2020.
The TWSS builds on payroll data returned to Revenue through its real-time PAYE system. Where a business qualifies for the TWSS under the revised criteria, the wage subsidies under the scheme are payable for eligible employees in respect of payroll submissions made on or after 24 April 2020, with a pay date on or after 24 April 2020, and are not retrospective.
Eligible employers can participate in the scheme in respect of any eligible employees on their payroll at 29 February 2020, including rehired staff who had been temporarily laid off after that date. Where an employee previously laid off has been re-hired, the employee will qualify for the scheme once their claim for social welfare benefit (Pandemic Unemployment Payment/Jobseekers Benefit) is ceased. Eligibility for the scheme can be satisfied by an employer once they meet the relevant criteria, which can be at any point in time during the scheme’s duration.
Finally, the Deputy referred to P30 forms. Such forms are no longer in use following the introduction of PAYE Modernisation. Section 985G of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 sets out that Revenue issue a monthly statement to the employer outlining a summary of the payroll submissions made by the employer for the month. If no corrective action is taken by the employer, this statement is deemed to be a monthly return by the employer made on the return due date.