vaccine passes

Another fine mess: Vaccine pass proposal for indoor dining sends a peculiar message to young workers

How exactly it will work is far from obvious.

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A narrow and increasingly familiar range of words is being used this morning to describe the reaction to yesterday’s decision to delay the July reopening. 

It’s understandable given that, after weeks of preparation, hospitality businesses will have to put their plans on the back burner, workers will have to re-enrol for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and consumers will have to wait a bit longer for that indoor pint or meal. 

‘A mess’ would be a way to describe the decision itself and the government’s handling of the announcement.

There is now no clear date for the reopening of indoor dining and, seemingly out of the blue, the government is mulling a workaround — restricting it to only those who have been vaccinated. How exactly this will work is far from obvious and its sudden inclusion in the language around reopening has turbo-charged the outrage.

If you look at it from the perspective of young workers, few of whom have been vaccinated, it’s easy to understand why the reaction has been so furious.

Sectors of the economy like hospitality and food services have a high incidence of low pay.

In fact, 43% of minimum wage workers are likely to be engaged in these sectors and others like retail that have been disproportionately affected by job losses over the past year. What’s more, according to the ESRI, Ireland has the highest incidence of young workers — aged between 18 and 29 — on the minimum wage in Europe at 41% (France is next in the rankings at 31.9%).

So it’s safe to say that young workers have had a torrid pandemic, losing their jobs altogether or ping-ponging between employment and unemployment. Whenever they do return to work, they’re paid at the lower end of the spectrum.

If indoor dining is restricted to the vaccinated, it surely sends a very peculiar message to this younger cohort, not just about work incentives but also about safety. Effectively, it says, ‘You can wait tables for low pay but because of the public health situation, it’s not safe enough for you to actually eat in the same restaurant’.

Of course, this is just one window into the economic consequences of the government’s decision, which are likely to wide-ranging. We will likely get a better sense of what it might mean for the broader economy when the Central Bank of Ireland releases its Quarterly Bulletin tomorrow morning.

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