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'Crumbs from the table': Opposition says government must go further than an extra bank holiday

People Before Profit says that Ireland needs at least three more bank holidays.

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OPPOSITION POLITICIANS HAVE said that an extra bank holiday to recognise the efforts of essential workers would represent “crumbs from the table” from government. 

Work is underway within government departments to devise a so-called “Covid bonus”, with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar saying that a bank holiday and tax credits are among the measures under consideration. 

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting today, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the government would “need to be careful not to adopt a divisive approach” to such a pandemic bonus. 

She said that Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath were “examining this matter” with the intention of bringing a proposal to Cabinet. 

It is expected that such plans could be announced on Budget day in a fortnight’s time. 

Speaking to reporters this morning, Solidarity TD Mick Barry said that “a lasting tribute” to the work of essential workers would be “a serious increase” in the minimum wage up to €15 per hour. 

The current minimum wage is €10.20 per hour but the government has signalled that an increase is likely

“If they think that a measly bank holiday and a few crumbs off the table is going to satisfy the demand of working people for a Covid bonus, then they would want to be thinking again,” Barry said.

Workers sacrificed in order to help drag this country through the pandemic. You raised the issue of deaths, workers on the frontline died and not just in the health service. Workers got sick and had long Covid, fatigue, stress, all kinds of mental health pressures. They deserve some reward for that. I’m talking about public sector workers and I’m talking about private sector workers here, the likes of our retail workers, cleaners, many of whom worked through the pandemic on wages that were so low that they struggled to pay the rent.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett said that his party has previously published a bill to legislate for three more bank holidays per year rather than the one being suggested by government. 

“We published a bill in the summer to introduce three new bank holidays and now he’s proposing one. As far as we’re concerned, we need a lot more than one additional bank holiday, not just as a payback for the work that essential workers and frontline workers did during Covid, but also the fact that we have less statutory and bank holidays than most countries in Europe,” he said. 

bh Source: TheJournal/Statista

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane TD said this morning that his party also supports an additional bank holiday but also advocates for hospitality vouchers.

“We had advocated that there would be recognition put in place for all workers, because everybody has sacrificed over the last 18 months, which is why we proposed a hospitality voucher of €200 per adult and €100 per child,” he said.

“So we want that rolled out, we also support and have long supported an additional bank holiday. So we’re pleased that the government has moved in that direction,” he said. 

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Róisín Shortall TD of the Social Democrats said she supports an additional bank holiday but that the question of a pandemic bonus “has developed into a bidding war”.

“We need to end this auction politics and I’m really concerned now about the build up to the Budget because we’re back into this. People have magic money trees and you can say that about Fine Gael and Sinn Féin as well,” she said.

I think there is a need to recognise the enormous efforts of everybody, I would agree with the idea of an additional bank holiday but I also think we should go down the route of the entitlement to additional statutory leave.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said there are “many, many frontline workers” who deserve to be recognised. 

“There are many frontline workers and we need to be careful not to adopt a divisive approach on how to recognise working people during the pandemic. So a proposal will be brought to Cabinet and we will consider that,” she said.

“What we want is we want to make sure that we have something that recognises and is fair. And as I said, the two ministers will be bringing proposals to Cabinet.”

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Rónán Duffy

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