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Women returning from maternity leave ineligible for Covid-19 wage subsidy

Fianna Fáil has called on the government to issue “clear and simple guidance” on this issue.

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TRADE UNIONS HAVE written to the government to highlight an anomaly for women returning from maternity leave applying for the wage subsidy scheme.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland, and trade unions Siptu and the ICTU, have written to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to highlight the anomaly in relation to the Covid-19 Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS).

The scheme, which is operated by Revenue, enables employees to receive State supports through their employers’ payroll in circumstances where the employer is affected by the pandemic.

The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme provides up to €410 per employee a company keeps on its books, for employees and employers who are eligible. 

But, the groups have highlighted that women who are returning from maternity leave have been made ineligible for the payment.

In an email to the minister, the authors from the three organisations note: “It appears that women returning from maternity leave are excluded from the benefits of the TWSS as, though the person was an employee, they did not receive normal pay during January and February 2020.”

The letter notes that as Jan/Feb is the chosen period for calculating an employees pay, women who are returning for maternity leave have been made ineligible for the subsidy.

In its guidance, Revenue states that an employer must submit an employee’s Average Revenue Net Weekly Pay (ARNWP) for them to receive the payment – but this is based on January and February payroll submissions made to Revenue by the employer by 15 March 2020.

Women who were on maternity leave would be receiving a social welfare payment, and not their usual payroll wage, meaning they’re ineligible for the subsidy scheme.

Therefore, workers now find themselves in a position whereby their employers’ options are to pay them without receiving the assistance that the TWSS offers or lay them off so that they can access the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).
This discrepancy impacts most acutely on low paid women workers whose employers do not top up Maternity Benefit, and who have been reliant on statutory Maternity Benefit for the duration of their maternity leave, expecting to return to work on full pay.

Fianna Fáil TD and youth affairs spokesperson Anne Rabbitte said that a number of childcare providers have contacted her to say that their staff had returned from maternity leave who have faced this issue.

“…It now seems these women cannot be included in the scheme, which seems like a sexist stance to take.

Even though the women were still employees, they returned to work outside Revenue’s applicable dates for the scheme so weren’t on the payroll in January or February, which is a requirement.

“This is an issue that applies to all sectors and it’s discrimination, pure and simple… Revenue hasn’t been clear about how to handle these cases and it’s having serious, real-life consequences.”

“I know of situations where women have been told they’ll have to apply for social welfare instead… We need clear and simple guidance on this,” Rabbitte said.

The NWCI and trade unions emphasised that employees returning from maternity leave are protected under the Maternity Protection Acts 1994–2004 and Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015.

This “deeply unjust” anomaly, it added, has the “potential to be discriminatory”.

“As organisations working to support women and workers, it is concerning to us that women are, in effect, being penalised for taking maternity leave at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is particularly concerning to us that it is women who have been working in sectors that are low paid that will bear the brunt of this. We urge you to resolve this issue as soon as possible so that women returning to work after their maternity leave have their jobs and income protected.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has highlighted before that there have been anomalies with the Covid-19 unemployment payment, and said that although they were ironing out some issues with the payment, that the payment system “isn’t perfect”

A spokesperson for Revenue said in a statement to TheJournal.ie: “The overarching ambition of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) is to retain the link between employers and employees to the greatest extent possible for when business picks up after the crisis.

The scheme is confined to employees who were on the employer’s payroll at 29 February 2020, and for whom a payroll submission has already been made to Revenue in the period from 1 February 2020 to 15 March 2020.

“There can be cases where an employee was in employment but did not receive normal pay in January or February 2020, such as reduced pay, maternity leave, illness benefit or off-pay leave.”

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In such cases, the spokesperson advised, the employer can either:

  • “Operate the scheme based on Average Revenue Net Weekly Pay for January/February 2020, or
  • Pay the employee the appropriate wages without receiving a subsidy refund.”

From 4 May, the TWSS scheme will change so that the subsidy paid to employers will be based on each individual employee’s Average Revenue Net Weekly Pay.

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