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If the Government insists we wait six months more to address the problem, it will seriously undermine the chance of safe and fair recovery, says the Labour Party.
If the Government insists we wait six months more to address the problem, it will seriously undermine the chance of safe and fair recovery, says the Labour Party.
Image: Shutterstock/El Nariz

Government agree to sick pay reform, but Labour says six month delay will hinder fight against the pandemic

Ireland is one of only five EU members that doesn’t recognise sick pay as a right.
Sep 22nd 2020, 6:53 PM 17,442 22

EMPLOYERS AND UNIONS will be consulted on sick pay reform in Ireland, following a discussion at Cabinet today. 

Government has committed to report back within six months on a Labour Party proposal that would ensure workers who fall sick continue to get paid for up to six weeks. 

Across the EU, 22 countries already have a statutory right to sick pay, as does the UK. Ireland is one of only five EU members that doesn’t recognise it as a right.

NPHET and the acting Chief Medical Officer have already identified the lack of an entitlement to sick pay in Ireland as a potential barrier in preventing the spread of Covid-19 in workplaces and in different sectors, particularly those where staff tend to be on low levels of pay.

“We have already seen outbreaks in meat processing plants, mushroom plants and nursing homes,” said Labour Senator Ivana Bacik.

A government spokesperson said the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar “believes this should change”, stating that Ireland is rather unusual in comparison to our European counterparts.  

The decision to delay a decision on Labour’s sick pay proposals by at least six months, will give the government time to examine the impacts and cost such a measure would have on businesses, particularly small and medium businesses, stated the spokesperson.

Since March of this year, workers certified as diagnosed or suspected of having Covid or who are awaiting test results and told to self isolate, are entitled to the Enhanced Illness Benefit of €350 per week.

Both employees and self-employed people can qualify for the benefit.

Workers who live in direct provision who have been diagnosed with Covid-19, or who have been advised to self-isolate, can access the payment.

Over the six months, it is understood the government will consult with stakeholders and draw up options that could be rolled out.

Labour’s spokesperson on Employment Affairs Senator Marie Sherlock said the lack of statutory sick leave is a fundamental weakness in our fight against the pandemic.

“We can’t wait six months for a public consultation when a second wave is underway. We are more likely to see a vaccine delivered sooner than a government proposal on sick pay after a public consultation.

“Ensuring sick pay for all is not just a vital question of worker’s rights; it is the essential missing piece in our strategy against Covid-19. At any other time, we would have an obligation to ensure every worker has a right to paid sick leave. But during a pandemic, we have a special duty to guarantee sick pay as soon as possible in the name of public health,” she said.

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If the Government insists we wait six months more to address the problem, it will seriously undermine the chance of safe and fair recovery, she said.

Private sector workers are entirely dependent on the benevolence of their employer to pay them when they are ill, said Sherlock.

She said only a minority currently choose to do so and the worst affected tend to be on lower income and in certain essential sectors.

“We shouldn’t make the mistake of viewing paid sick leave as an extravagance, especially when we are fighting to overcome a pandemic.

The debate about the impact of the lack of sick pay provision has centred on meat plants in the last number of months. 

AA Euro Group, who provides agency staff to meat factories, confirmed on RTÉ’s Prime Time that it does not pay sick pay. AA Euro Group’s Pat McCarthy said it was a legislative issue and if every factory had to pay sick pay, it would follow suit. 

Junior Minister in the Department of Agriculture, the Green Party’s Pippa Hackett, has also called for workers in the sector to be given greater access to sick pay.

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Christina Finn

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