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Employees face income support 'cliff edge' unless supplementary payments extended, says Sinn Féin TD

The Short Term Work Support benefit is coming to a close for many in receipt of it, which will affect workers in industries impacted by Covid-19, particularly aviation.

Image: Shutterstock/Agnieszka Pas

MANY WORKERS COULD be left without supplementary income as their short-term job seekers benefit comes to a close due and government inaction is to blame, according to a Sinn Féin TD.

Claire Kerrane TD says that many workers are at risk of losing their Short-Term Work Support (STWS) if the government does not extend it.

STWS is a type of job-seekers benefit that gives workers supplementary income if their working hours have been reduced temporarily by their employer to three days or less a week.

Many workers have been receiving STWS as they are on reduced hours due to the Covid-19 pandemic affecting their industries, however, the payment was in existence before the pandemic. It’s different from the PUP, which is for employees who have lost all working hours.

STWS is only paid for a maximum of 234 days, depending on the amount of PRSI contributions paid by the employee.

Many of these employees still cannot return to full-time work due to current public health guidelines.

These 234 days are coming to a close for many employees or have done already, according to Kerrane – as they started to receive the payment in the early months of the pandemic. 

“We’re asking the minister to extend that,” she said, “so nobody is left in a situation where they have to apply for the means-tested Jobseeker’s Allowance, and will face a reduced income support at that point in time.”

Kerrane said that when people come off the STWS, they may be put on reduced Jobseekers Allowance or may get no Jobseeker’s Allowance at all, due to household income being taken into account.

Many of those who are in receipt of STWS are working in industries that have not returned to full-time employment due to public health guidelines, including aviation.

Kerrane said that the issue of this payment drawing to a close was particularly affecting those in the aviation sector, who have seen severe cuts to their hours due to travel restrictions.

Alan Brereton, Vice President of the Irish Air Line Pilots Association (IALPA) and pilot at Aer Lingus said that, across the year, the average reduction in earnings for pilots working at the airline was 70%.

Many of these pilots on this reduction are in receipt of the STWS, which is coming to a close. Brereton said this affects hundreds of pilots.

Recently, at a meeting with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks, FÓRSA Trade Union national secretary Ashley Connolly, said the government needs to provide the necessary income supports to protect the employment of highly skilled workers in aviation.

There have also been a number of closures in the aviation sector recently, including the announcement of the closure of the Aer Lingus Shannon cabin crew base and the laying-off of ground staff at Cork Airport this week while the runway is being reconstructed in September.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Neil McGowan, said about the Cork Airport layoff: “The workers involved have been on significantly reduced earnings throughout the pandemic and this latest announcement comes as a further blow.”

Connolly also said industry experts are clear that aviation will be the last to recover and so a scheme needs to be put in place “that is specific to aviation” and is “recognising that we will take longer to recover.”

Connolly said she had engaged with many members who are in receipt of some form of welfare payment and are concerned about managing their finances.

“[They are] expressing fears of engagement and trying to struggle to pay mortgages,” she said.

“I know many of my members, their children are sitting their Leaving Certs in the coming weeks and have ambitions that a lot would go to college. But there are fees attached to going to college.”

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Another concern is that those in receipt of STWS may use up all of their PRSI stamps, or contributions, and will none left if they need to receive maternity or illness benefit.

As of 16 May, there were 3,753 people on STWS.

The amount of STWS paid is made in respect of the days worked. It is paid for up to 9 months (or 234 days) for people with 260 or more PRSI contributions paid or up to 6 months (or 156 days) for people with fewer than 260 PRSI contributions paid.

When a person’s entitlement STWS comes to an end, they may be eligible for Jobseekers Allowance, which has no time limit so long as the person reaches all qualifying conditions, including the means test. This means test is where the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection examines all sources of income to see if a household is below a certain level.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said in response to a parliamentary question from the Sinn Féin TD recently that she believed there were sufficient financial supports available for those whose STWS is ending.

In her answer, she cited applying to the Jobseeker Allowance or for employers to avail of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) operated by Revenue for employers to support job retention. The EWSS is a scheme to help employers cover the cost of wages.

Brereton said what the government announced at the end May in their roadmap to the easing of restrictions with regard to the aviation sector was not enough.

“Ultimately all we want to do is go back to work,” he said. He said that pilots are no longer looking for more payouts, just a clear route for the return to work.

“We need the government to move into more effective risk management, and implement tools like rapid onset testing, that will allow people to get back to normal and get the freedom back in a way that meets the public health objective.”

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