Sick pay plans will place ‘disproportionate cost burden’ on employers, says Ibec

Plans for greater sick pay rights will place a “disproportionate cost burden” on employers, business group Ibec has claimed.

Meanwhile, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has raised concerns that the cost of going to a GP to certify sick leave – which is required under the draft legislation – will be a barrier to accessing it.

The issues were raised at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise which is conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of the Government proposals.

Under the plans for a statutory sick pay regime all workers would get an entitlement for paid sick leave of three days initially, rising to 10 by 2025.

While the rate of pay is not outlined in the draft legislation – and would be set in regulations to follow – there are suggestions that it will be at 70 per cent of an employee’s normal rate subject to a daily earnings threshold of €110.

Maeve McElwee, of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec) told TDs and Senators that the proposals pose “a significant cost to employers, particularly SMEs and those in sectors that have been most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

She said: “Ibec submits that the introduction of statutory sick pay, in the manner proposed, will give rise to a disproportionate cost burden to employers at this time.”

Ms McElwee said it is not yet known what the rate of pay will be but referred to the mooted daily earnings threshold of €110 and compared that to a rate of £95.85 a week in Northern Ireland.

She said the proposed daily threshold would be basing a statutory sick pay entitlement on an annual salary of €40,889.16 and that “goes beyond protecting those who are in low pay”.

Laura Bambrick of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions raised a series of concerns her organisation has with the proposals.

She said the draft legislation includes a narrow definition of contract of employment and it should be broader to ensure those who aren’t employed on a conventional contract of service are included.

She raised questions over how long a worker would have to be in a job to be entitled to statutory sick leave with a suggestion in the one version of the proposals that it would be six months and a later version saying 13 weeks.

Ms Bambrick said “both cannot be right” and “Congress recommends the qualification period be kept at a minimum so as not to stall labour force mobility or create a perverse incentive for employers to dismiss workers before they come into qualification.”

Ms Bambrick also raised concern that the Bill says that all sick leave must be certified by a registered medical practitioner.

She said: “While the requirement to have the sickness certified is common practice in statutory sick leave schemes throughout Europe, Ireland is unusual in that workers have to pay for primary healthcare.

“Very few people in employment are covered by a medical card or GP visiting card.”

Ms Bambrick said: “In recognition that the out-of-pocket expense for a GP visit will create a barrier for workers exercising their new right to paid sick leave, congress recommends the Bill includes provision for limited periods of self-certified sick leave.”

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan later agreed with this saying there should be a limited period of self-certification for the first couple of days of an illness due to the difficulty in getting a GP appointment straight away.

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