Fórsa seeks clarity on income supports and ‘essential work’

Fórsa has welcomed new measures to support the incomes of workers threatened by redundancy, lay-offs or reduced working time on foot of the coronavirus public health crisis.

But the union says more clarity is needed about how the scheme will apply and, specifically, what the Government means by “inability to pay normal wages.”

Following this afternoon’s Government announcement, Fórsa has also advised its members to report for work pending clarification from employers about what constitutes ‘essential’ work and work able to be done at home. The union is also seeking guidance on the position of staff who depend on public transport to get to work.

The union contacted the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), this afternoon (24th March) and got an assurance that new guidance for public service staff and managers would issue in the next couple of days. DPER is responsible for industrial relations issues across the civil and public service.

In advice to its members, the union said: “Staff in all sectors should await guidance from their employers, otherwise they may lose pay if they fail to report for work. The union is seeking a clear and consistent indication of which staff should attend work as essential workers. In the meantime, it is urging members to strictly follow HSE advice on protecting themselves and others from the coronavirus.”

The new income support measures introduce a temporary wage subsidy of 70% of take-home pay, up to a maximum weekly tax-free amount of €410 a week, where employers are struggling to pay staff because of the coronavirus.

Workers who have lost their jobs due to the crisis will also get an enhanced emergency Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment of €350 per week – up from €203.

The Covid-19 illness payment, available to workers who contract the virus or have to self-isolate, is also to be increased to €350 a week. And the Government has announced new protections for people facing difficulties with their mortgages, rent and utility bills.

Fórsa official Ashley Connolly said the scheme had been eagerly awaited by employers in the aviation sector and elsewhere. “While the finer details will need to be assessed, Fórsa has been engaging with airlines, airports and other companies with the objective of keeping workers in jobs. This would ensure that they’re in the best position to get back to normal when we come out of this crisis,” she said.

Ms Connolly called for more clarity on what’s meant by ‘inability to pay normal wages.’ “I’m aware that the employers are awaiting guidance from the Revenue Commissioners. Today’s announcement is welcome, but we need Revenue clarity over eligibility for the income support scheme,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has welcomed the temporary wage subsidy scheme. Last week, its general secretary Patrica King wrote to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to demand ambitious measures from the Government to preserve workers’ jobs and incomes.

“These unprecedented times demand unprecedented measures to minimise the impact on workers, their families and the business community. These wage subsidies will help put workers’ minds at ease and enable them and their families to meet the immediate challenge at hand, which is beating Covid-19,” she said.