Letter from Patricia King to Minister Paschal Donohoe re Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme

19 May 2020

Unpaid Wages

12th May, 2020

Minister Pascal Donohoe, TD
Department of Finance
Government Buildings
Merrion Street Upper
Dublin 2

Dear Minister

I am writing to raise my grave concerns in relation to your reply regarding the disqualification of some new mothers to the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (FIN-MO-01081-2020).

Women seeking to return to work following statutory maternity leave who had not received a wage top-up on their Maternity Benefit from their employer do not meet a ‘key condition’ of the TWSS - ‘the employees were on the payroll at 29th February 2020. As a consequence, where, as is highly probable in a business suffering significant negative economic impact due to the pandemic, an employer is not in a position to pay her wage without the assistance of a subsidy, such women are being made unemployed.

As you know, ICTU strongly supports the introduction of the TWSS and views it as a very positive measure to assist employers and workers in the ongoing income related challenges arising from the Covid19 pandemic.

However, the operation of the TWSS in respect to some new mothers is in conflict with the spirit of the TWSS and provisions in employment equality legalisation. The Maternity Protection Act, 1994 is explicit on the matter:

Section 22 (1) During a period on absence from work by an employee while on (a) Maternity Leave and during a period of natal care absence , the employee shall be deemed to have been in the employment of the employer and, accordingly while so absent the employee shall, subject to sub, section 6 and section 24, be treated as if she had not been so absent; and such absence shall not affect any right, whether conferred by statute, contract or otherwise and related to the employee’s employment.

If employers did not include women in their employment who were on maternity leave on their payroll when registering with Revenue for the TWSS, they clearly did so in error.

There are in and around 20,000 recipients of maternity benefit annually, a fraction of whom will fall foul to this discriminatory operation of the Scheme.

While I acknowledge and welcome the need for safeguards against abuse, these are bona fide employees often with a long employment history with the employer registered with Revenue for the TWSS.

In light of the above, I hope you will recorder your position and accept this it is not tenable that a woman returning to work from maternity leave is treated any less favourably than others.

I look forward to your early response in resolving this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely

Patricia King
General Secretary

cc: Revenue Chairman, Niall Cody