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Sick Pay

Varadkar launches public consultation on plans for laws to give employees legal right to sick pay

The Tánaiste said statutory sick pay must be fair for workers and employers.

INTRODUCING STATUTORY SICK pay in Ireland will not place an undue cost burden on employers, the Tánaiste has insisted.

Leo Varadkar said any scheme must protect low paid and vulnerable workers as well as being fair and affordable for businesses.

Varadkar’s comments came as he launched a public consultation on the government’s plans for new laws to give employees the legal right to sick pay.

The consultation will be open from today to 18 December.

“Ireland is one of only a small number of European countries in which there is no legal obligation on employers to provide for sick pay, in the way they do annual leave for example,” he said.

“This needs to change and I am committed to introducing a statutory sick pay scheme that works for employees and employers as quickly as possible.”

Varadkar, who is minister for enterprise, trade and employment, said while many employers do provide for sick pay, there was no provision in law compelling them to do so.

He said the result was many low-paid and vulnerable workers being left exposed when they become unwell.

The government has said it will enact statutory sick pay legislation in Ireland by the end of 2021.

Varadkar acknowledged it had been a difficult year for employers, having had to contend with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and looming prospect of Brexit.

“The scheme must be designed so that it protects employees, particularly low paid and vulnerable workers, but it also needs to be fair and affordable for employers, many of whom have faced great difficulties this year,” he said.

“I encourage employers and employees alike to engage with this consultation and make their views known.”

Commenting on the launch of the consultation, Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said that Ireland is “completely out of line with European norms” in relation to sick pay.

“It took a pandemic to expose the big failings in how we protect workers against loss of income, the lack of a legal entitlement to sick pay from an employer being one of the most glaring examples.

“Unlike workers in nearly all European countries, workers in Ireland have no legal right to sick pay,” she said.

“Sick pay is at the discretion of the employer to include or not in a contract of employment. As a result, up to half of the labour force, including hundreds of thousands of low-paid essential workers, don’t receive sick pay and face being financially compelled to work when unwell.”

ICTU Social Policy Officer, Dr Laura Bambrick added, “Our voluntary system of sick pay isn’t working. Introducing mandatory sick pay will be a lasting legacy of the pandemic and bring Ireland into line with basic workers’ rights in the rest of Europe.”

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