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Paschal Donohoe is 'examining' maternity leave exclusion from Covid-19 wage subsidy

The Finance Minister had said previously that it wasn’t possible to change the Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme to suit each individual.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

FINANCE AND PUBLIC Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe has said that he is “examining the issue” of women returning from maternity leave not being eligible for the Covid-19 Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS).

As part of the scheme, employees need to submit a payslip from January and February, which women who are on unpaid maternity leave wouldn’t be eligible for the scheme, and women who are on paid maternity leave would be only entitled to a fraction of their former salary.

The TWSS makes up to €450 available per employee on the basis that employers keep workers on their books. Revenue has advised employers to simply pay women the full pay that they’re entitled to, if they aren’t eligible for the scheme.

This anomaly would also affect people who are on paternity leave, illness benefit or off-pay leave, and has been criticised as having the “potential to be discriminatory”.

One employer said about the exclusion issue: “Employers are at risk of breaking legislation, and families are at risk of poverty.”

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings yesterday, the Minister said this in response to a question from TheJournal.ie:

It particularly developed there over the last couple of weeks, and is a consequence of the fact that I had a particular date on the legislation in relation to the Wage Subsidy Scheme, and we had a focus on the WSS of looking at those citizens who were on the pay roll at that point in time.
I am examining that issue at the moment, but of course I do have to be mindful that there are many other groups of citizens at the moment who are looking to enter the wage subsidy scheme, and for different reasons that has not been possible. But I am examining that issue because it absolutely not my intention to be discriminating in any way against any part of or workforce or returning workforce.

He said that the Revenue Commissioner and the Department of Finance are “looking at that issue at the moment”. 

When asked about the issue on RTÉ’s Today programme minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said that he “understands that this is an issue”, and he is due to speak to his colleague, Social Protection minister Regina Doherty about this.

The temporary wage scheme was meant to be temporary, he said, adding that half a million people are involved in it. “I don’t want to preempt any government meetings, but there will be news on this by the end of the week,” he said.

In a letter to the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), Donohoe’s Department said that the TWSS has developed “quickly”, and said that “it must be accepted that the TWSS simply cannot be adapted to meet the particular circumstances of individual employers or employees”.

The scheme does not distinguish between ordinary wages, shift allowances, overtime, bonuses or commission or between part-time or full-time employees. Moreover, the scheme has no role in relation to the employer/employee relationship in so far as terms, conditions and entitlements of the employment are concerned.

The letter advises that women who are due to return to work but cannot because of the Covid-19 pandemic are entitled to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. This would mean that these women would have to be made unemployed, and wouldn’t be kept on their employers’ payroll.

The issue has been referred to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission by the NWCI, which said it was “a matter of concern”, and the IHREC would be examining the issue “in detail”.

It’s estimated that around 20,000 women claim maternity leave benefits each year, and around half of this cohort do not receive top ups from their employer.

Although the issue only affects women who have been on maternity leave in January and February, and returned to work in March, April or May, as time goes on and more women return to work, the number of women it affects will increase.

Added to this cohort are those who were on paternity leave, illness benefit, or off-pay leave in January or February. 

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With reporting from Christina Finn at Government Buildings. If you are affected by this issue, please get in touch: grainne@thejournal.ie

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