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Burton looks to play down tensions over sick pay reform

The social protection minister says a dispute about reforms to sick pay is not about her or any other minister.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

SOCIAL PROTECTION minister Joan Burton has sought to play down a dispute with a cabinet colleague over her proposals to reform sick pay so that the State is not responsible for the first few weeks of payments.

Burton had announced plans before last year’s Budget to amend the current system – where workers can receive Illness Benefit from the state if their employer does not offer a similar scheme – in order to bring Ireland more into line with European norms.

The plan was not included in the Budget, after concerns from businesses and government backbenchers – as well as jobs minister Richard Bruton – that forcing companies to pay absent employees could threaten the viability of smaller businesses.

The IMF’s most recent staff report revisited the topic, suggesting Ireland’s arrangements exposed the government to greater liabilities than others, and appeared to back Burton’s drive to reduce the burden.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week yesterday, Burton played down the extent of any disagreement between herself and Bruton. She said:

The only winners in this debate have to be the people of Ireland, the citizens and taxpayers. It’s not a question of me and any other number of the government.

Bruton pointed to OECD data showing that Ireland was “completely out of line” in its sick pay system, summarising her proposals by saying that over time, the emphasis would be played “on wellness, rather than on sickness”.

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Employees themselves would be asked to cover the costs of the the first three days of any absence caused by illness, with the employer covering the remainder of the first four weeks and the State stepping in thereafter.

“In the North, the period is six months… the periods are far longer in most countries,” Burton said.

Read: Just 10-20 per cent of people better off on dole, says ESRI

More: 11 things to know about the IMF’s latest Irish review

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Gavan Reilly

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