Updated 13 hours ago
TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has opened the door for bonus payments or extra leave for frontline workers in sectors other than the health service.
In the Dáil, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that it was his “strong view” that bonus payments or extra leave should not be limited to frontline workers in the health service.
Asked about the prospect today in New York, the Taoiseach said the Minister of Public Expenditure Michael McGrath has been engaging with partners and unions on the issue.
“We want to reflect the contribution that people have made during an Covid-19 particularly frontline workers. And those frontline workers have been in many sectors, not least in retail, for example, right from the beginning and commencement of the pandemic, and it will be challenging, but that is something that we are working towards energetically and proactively,” he said.
When asked if workers can expect a monetary award, the Taoiseach said he would not go into specifics. “We’re going to have further engagements with the sectors, and it could be a combination of approaches,” he said, pointing out that it could be a combination of a monetary bonus or time in lieu.
Martin said “we want to get this right, we want to be inclusive, that is why there is a process underway. I can assure you it will be about action not words”.
With “proper engagement, I think we can get a generous resolution of this to reflect those who did so much for us during the pandemic,” he said.
While the process of considering rolling in workers from other sectors is ongoing, the Taoiseach said “obviously there are going to be some limits at some point” as to who bonuses or time in lieu might apply.
However, he added: “There are ways and means of capturing the contribution that different sectors made during the pandemic.”
Earlier in the week, Varadkar said enormous work has been done by civil servants in the Department of Social Protection in making sure that people got their PUP payments, and got them quickly.
“I know of the work staff in the Revenue did in making sure that businesses got their employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, payments and of the work staff in my Department did in making sure that businesses got the assistance they needed. Too often, we make this distinction between front-line workers and non-front-line workers that does not fully appreciate that there is nothing you can do as a front-line worker if it were not for all of the people behind you,” he said in the Dáil.
The public expenditure minister said today the cost of granting ten days additional leave to healthcare workers as recognition of their work during the pandemic would cost the State over €1 billion.
A Labour Court recommendation issued on Monday estimated that the direct cost of granting the leave would be around €377 million. However, McGrath said that once overtime and agency staff brought in to cover the days are taken into the account, the final figure would be “well over €1 billion”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, McGrath said the Government is committed to expressing their gratitude to frontline healthcare workers who he described as “outstanding”.
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“We are still living with Covid and I want to join with others in paying tribute to frontline health care workers who were outstanding over the last 18 months and the government believes we need to give special recognition to that,” he said.
However, McGrath said he will deal with the issue of special recognition for healthcare workers in the coming weeks but said he was also conscious of those working in the private sector who had also put in a massive effort during the pandemic.
“I am giving a commitment to dealing with this issue in the next few weeks. There is a lot of complexity here because the whole of society played such a big role in getting us through the pandemic. We should not pursue a divisive approach to the issue of compensation for workers,” he added.
Unions had sought some form of special recognition for healthcare staff as far back as last year.
Health service employers in France, Northern Ireland, Denmark and elsewhere have offered staff bonuses or pay increases in recognition of their work over the past year.
TheJournal.ie’s Political Correspondent Christina Finn will be bringing you all the latest updates from Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s visit to New York this week.