Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

We are beginning with questions to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Is the Minister of State, Deputy English, taking the questions or is it the Minister, Deputy Varadkar?

The Tánaiste was hoping to join us, but he does not happen to be here. If you wish to take Question No. 3 first, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I could take it, if that is agreeable to Deputies?

Is Question No. 3 mine?

Is Deputy O'Reilly happy to proceed?

Yes, indeed I am. I am very agreeable to that.

Is Deputy Ó Ríordáin happy to proceed?

Yes, I am happy to proceed.

Departmental Reviews

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

3. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on the establishment of a task force to examine the future of retail in Ireland. [29942/21]

As ever, my questions are very straightforward and very simple and require very simple answers. Mandate recently launched a campaign along with the ICTU on the future of retail. It is extremely important that we do not give up on retail and that we ensure that we save as many retail jobs as possible. That would be good for town centres, city centres and most importantly, very good for jobs.

I thank Deputy O'Reilly for this question and for agreeing to take Question No. 3 first. The retail area is a sector with high importance for the Department. That is the reason we ensured in the programme for Government that we have a Minister whose responsibility would include the area of retail to build on the success of the retail forum in recent years. The past year has been a very difficult one for must businesses, including those in the Irish retail sector. The impact of both the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have posed significant challenges for businesses and it is vital that businesses continue to develop their resilience in the face of these and future challenges.

I thank businesses and their customers for their continued support of the national effort throughout the unprecedented public health crisis. Many in the retail sector are on the front line, but they still managed to provide an excellent service throughout the pandemic and to reach their customers in many different ways all over the country. That was handled extremely well, in conjunction with employees, employers and their customers following all the protocols and playing their part to suppress the virus.

As the largest private sector employer, and a key element in providing for the needs of society and indeed other sectors of the economy, it is vital that retail continues to develop capability and remains competitive. It is important that there is a strong, diverse, and balanced retail business presence across the country which sustains the local and domestic economy and contributes to the export economy, both online and offline. A long-term goal for the overall retail sector prior to the pandemic was to scale up online offerings to complement physical outlets, but to make sure that we can develop the two. This goal has been accelerated due to the pandemic, and I want to see the digital development of the sector continue. My Department has provided specific funding though the Covid-19 online retail scheme and the trading online voucher scheme to assist the retail sector in its efforts.

For many retailers, developing their digital capability and enhancing their physical retail offering with a strong online presence will support them to become more resilient and to be able to continue with that opportunity in the future. The Department is determined to support that ambition and assist our businesses to increase their digital presence and boost online sales, allowing them to target new and existing customers and shoppers in the online space.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It also provides consumers with more opportunities to support local businesses in their community, even when shopping online.

I want the retail sector to continue to develop and to become one of our most innovative and resilient sectors, so that those working in retail can be confident about building a long-term career in retail.

As Minister of State, I will support this by continuing to work collaboratively with the sector and to address issues directly affecting the retail sector. My Department is undertaking a retail sector study to look at the future of the retail sector. The study, to be prepared with external experts and stakeholders from the retail sector, will identify and analyse the factors impacting on retailers and their employees, and the likely future trends, opportunities and challenges facing the retail sector. The study will provide an evidence-based foundation for ongoing engagement with retail sector stakeholders and will identify retail sector policy options for consideration by my Department, working with the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and ultimately by the Government. The study will also support the work of the retail forum, which I chair, and will support the ongoing engagement that I and my officials have with the representative bodies of the workers and businesses in the retail sector.

Mandate made the call for the establishment of a task force on the future of retail as a matter of urgency following the loss of 500 jobs in The Carphone Warehouse. It followed the loss of jobs in Topman and Topshop and across the Arcadia Group. It happened after the loss of jobs in Debenhams and the disgraceful carry-on by the company in that regard. The need for this task force is apparent by the very nature of the difficulties that face the sector. There is a future for retail, but we must work out what that is and how it will work. That is why the task force that Mandate has called for is so urgent.

There is no doubt that there are changes in the retail landscape and they pose challenges. Online shopping is here, and it is enjoyed by many, but that cannot mean the end of traditional retail in towns, cities and villages. The Government must stop using the changing retail landscape as an excuse to do nothing to secure the future of the sector. It is really disheartening every time retail and job losses in particular are raised that some in government-----

I thank the Deputy.

-----just shrug their shoulders and say retail is changing. Apologies, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I thought I had two minutes.

No, one minute. I call on the Minister of State to respond.

To be very clear: we are very committed to the retail sector. That is why we are very focused on it in the Department and it is top of our agenda. It involves significant private sector employment, more than 300,000 jobs, albeit that during Covid approximately 70,000 were on the PUP. I hope to see the majority of them back at work.

I have been very clear; I have met with Mandate to discuss its proposals. The Tánaiste and I had a very good meeting with it. We believe we can manage this through the existing retail forum that has been set up and is working through our Department since 2014. We bring all the stakeholders together in the forum. It has proved to be very useful during our response to both Brexit and the pandemic in bringing together all the stakeholders involved throughout the sector, along with the unions as well. Mandate is represented on the forum by Gerry Light. We believe the opportunity exists to develop our response and future plans for the retail sector. We are engaging consultants to look to the future of retail and to set out all the areas we have to deal with in that regard. A major part will be the use of technology and the online opportunities for developing the skills of existing staff and bringing new staff into the sector. We want to see retail develop as a proper career option.

I thank the Minister of State.

There are a lot of opportunities there and the Government is very committed to that as well.

There is scope for the Government to work with communities, local politicians, the trade union movement and businesses to make towns and cities exciting and enjoyable places for people to spend their time. This is why a task force on retail is essential. We must ensure that towns and cities offer people a great experience. That means a relaxed atmosphere, pedestrianised streets to stroll peacefully through and to be able to look into shop windows and pop in and spend a few bob. We need outdoor dining and drinking spaces. I have discussed this with the Tánaiste on a number of occasions. We need true public spaces where people can relax. This is what is going to drive footfall in towns and cities. If we make them enjoyable places to be and to spend time, people will gravitate towards them and, by extension, more people will be willing to spend in shops, pubs and restaurants. This will create jobs. Going online is almost like giving up. We want to hear from the Minister of State that he is going to back the call from Mandate for this retail forum and ensure a future for retail and for retail jobs.

In case there is any doubt here, we are very committed to the online presence as well as the town centre presence. That is why in the programme for Government the town centre first principle exists across Departments, led by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, with our Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development. We will bring forward a framework this month focusing on town centre opportunities. I have engaged with the retail community, formally through the forum, but we also engage on a weekly basis with the various stakeholders. Everybody is committed to the opportunities, which are twofold: they are online. We must understand that approximately 70% of business from Irish purchasers online is going abroad. We want to win that back for local Irish companies and that is why we are involved with other campaigns to look locally.

We are aware the opportunity exists so we have to pursue it. Complementary to that is extending and increasing our offering and, exactly as the Deputy says, developing the experience in town centres. There is a lot of opportunity. We know that in the next 15 or 20 years, there will be an extra 1 million people living in this country. Therefore, there are many additional customers to be won. There has to be a twin-pronged approach, and that is what we will have.

I ask Members to co-operate on the time. I do not mean to keep interrupting but there is a time limit.

Workplace Relations Commission

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

1. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding the recruitment campaign to increase the number of Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, inspectors from 53 to the 90 it was authorised to recruit in 2006. [29941/21]

My question is a simple one, namely, to ask the Minister the position on the recruitment campaign to increase the number of WRC inspectors from 53 to 90. When will the complement of 90 be reached? This was part of Towards 2016, if my memory serves me correctly. Towards 2016 was agreed in 2006. Since 2016, there have been more people who may require the services of the commission's inspectors. Could the Tánaiste give us an update on the recruitment campaign and when the figure of 90 will be reached?

I thank the Deputy and colleagues for taking the third question first. I tried to get here in such a hurry that I managed to walk up to the higher level and then had to come back down again.

The WRC is an independent statutory body under the aegis of my Department. It was established on 1 October 2015 under the Workplace Relations Act 2015. On its establishment, sanction for 60 labour inspectors was granted. I understand from Department officials that an agreement with unions existed in 2016 whereby the number of WRC inspectors was to be increased to 90 over time. However, it predated the establishment of the WRC in October 2015.

The WRC was established as a two-tier employment rights and industrial relations structure to improve the State's employment rights and industrial relations service and reduce the number of industrial relations bodies from five to two, therefore requiring fewer staff. Staffing levels of WRC inspectorate are currently under active review. I am advised and satisfied that the service is operating effectively and that no delays are being reported.

WRC inspectors are appointed by the WRC Director General, with the consent of the Minister, and exercise such powers as are conferred upon them by the Workplace Relations Act 2015.

The WRC inspectorate is staffed by civil servants of my Department. As of 1 May 2021, there has been a total of 53 WRC inspectors. There are currently 60 sanctioned labour inspector posts. These comprise 53 executive officer inspectors and seven higher executive officer inspector team managers. These are supervised by three assistant principals and one chief labour inspector. In total, there are just under 200 staff in the WRC as a whole.

Currently, there are two competitions ongoing within the Public Appointments Service, and interviews for a higher executive officer inspector team manager competition have been finalised. The WRC expects two appointments from the competition shortly. A recruitment drive for inspectors is also under way. This will create a panel to enable vacancies to be filled.

I am aware that during a Topical Issue debate with the Minister of State, Deputy English, in March, Deputy O'Reilly raised the high number of breaches of employment law in meat plants found by WRC inspectors.

The Tánaiste will get an opportunity to complete his answer.

Since 2015, over one third of WRC investigations detected breaches of employment law. The data reveal fairly starkly the dark underbelly of the Irish economy. We are all agreed that this needs to be stamped out. In the past six years, the WRC has detected breaches in more than one third of all of its investigations. Of the investigations, 35.9% found breaches by employers regarding the non-payment of the minimum wage, employment permits, the protection of young persons, annual leave and public holiday entitlements and unpaid wages, in addition to other breaches. Sectors such as the food and drink, retail, wholesale, hair and beauty, and construction sectors have seen consistent breaches of employment law in recent years. These figures do not paint a pretty picture but what they do say to me very clearly is that we need more inspectors. Therefore, I am going to put the question to the Tánaiste again: if the figure is 90, can he outline to us when we are going to reach it? Given the good work done by the WRC inspectors and the fact that they are uncovering breaches of employment law, would it not be better to consider improving on the complement of 90?

There are 200 staff in the WRC. The number of inspectors currently sanctioned is 60. Ninety is an old figure that predates the reform of the five bodies. We merged five into two, thereby reducing some of the requirements for staff. That is not to say we will not go above 60 but the figure of 90 is no longer one we recognise.

To return to what I was saying about the meat plants, I followed up on this and wrote to the Director General about it. I was assured that the commission was going to continue to carry out inspections in this regard. As we move out of Covid, we will be able to reduce the number of Covid inspections and increase the number of regular labour law enforcement inspections, which will be beneficial.

Inspectors visit places of employment and carry out investigations on behalf of the WRC to ensure compliance with equality and employment-related legislation. An additional five labour inspectors were appointed in February of this year on foot of the competition.

The amalgamation of the functions of the WRC did not reduce the need for labour inspectors. If anything, the figures I have obtained prove there is a need for more labour inspectors. I am very disappointed the Tánaiste does not hear that or does not recognise the need.

Despite being underfunded and resourced, the WRC does absolutely fantastic work on behalf of workers. We can see that. Data provided to me show that, in the past decade alone, nearly €18 million in wages was returned to workers following investigations. Any employer who deliberately withholds wages from a worker or deliberately underpays a worker should be named, shamed and punished. There is an old saying, "Always pay what you owe and always ask for what you are owed." I am sure the employers would not be shy about letting a customer know if they were owed some money.

The amalgamation of the functions under the WRC made for administrative savings but it did not mean there was less need for inspections. The figures I have obtained underscore the need for more labour inspectors to be appointed. I urge the Minister to revisit the figure of 90 and try to reach that, at least.

I am not saying we do not need more labour inspectors; we may well do. I am just saying the figure of 90 is an historic one and not one that is committed to by the Government or one that is mentioned in any existing agreement with the trade unions. We anticipate that as we move out of Covid, we will be able to reduce the number of Covid-related inspections and increase the number of inspections related to employment rights. I thank the WRC for the work it does every day on upholding the rights of workers and for the work it has done very successfully in inspecting the return-to-work safety protocol.

In addition to what we are doing, we have also appointed 16 external adjudicators to the WRC panel to ensure there is a sufficient number of adjudicators in place to meet demand. There are competitions ongoing to fill vacancies.

We will need legislation quite soon, in the next couple of weeks, to respond to the Zalewski judgment, which requires that hearings can be held in public and that evidence must be given on oath.

Job Losses

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

2. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will meet the Deputies and local representatives representing Baldoyle to discuss the impending closure of two pharmaceutical companies and the efforts being made to prevent the closures or replace the jobs to be lost. [30029/21]

The Tánaiste will be aware that there were two announcements in the Baldoyle area over the past six months that are to result in the loss of over 540 jobs. Will the Tánaiste work with local representatives to discuss this issue? What plans does his Department have to deal with this, to ensure there will be no further job losses in the Baldoyle area and to ensure that those affected by these announcements will get all the supports they need?

I thank the Deputy. I will be very happy to work with all the local representatives in the area and on a cross-party basis on this matter. If the Deputy has any helpful leads on investors interested in the sites, I would be very happy to explore them.

I thank the Deputy for his recent letter to me on job losses in the area. As I said in my reply on 20 May, I was very disappointed to hear that Teva plans to close its Sudocrem manufacturing plant in Baldoyle. Teva is an Israeli-based pharmaceutical company. The announcement came not long after the announcement by Viatris that it was going to close one of its Baldoyle operations. A primary concern, of course, is the workers and families affected by the news. While I understand that both plants will remain operational until the end of next year, the announcements are nonetheless a devastating blow for those affected, particularly those who have been working in the plants for decades.

My Department has agreed a job loss response protocol with the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Education. This protocol puts in place actions to assist workers, including in respect of welfare entitlements, job-search assistance, and upskilling needs or opportunities. Every State support will be made available when the time comes to help workers transition and find new employment opportunities. I understand the members of the Dublin mid-Leinster employer relations team have already engaged directly with Viatris to offer supports to staff being made redundant and they will be available to engage with Teva once a formal notification of redundancy has been received. It has not been to date.

IDA Ireland is working with both companies at both local and corporate level. The agency will continue to provide support over coming months, including reviewing opportunities in terms of skills and retraining, as well as possibilities for the future use of the sites. The fact that both companies will continue to operate until the end of 2022 provides time in which to seek alternative investment for the area.

Yesterday we initiated the process of developing a new regional enterprise plan for Dublin. The capital is internationally recognised as a leader in areas such as digital and Internet services, financial services, international education and life sciences. However, Covid-19 has had a really negative impact on some businesses, with the pandemic having a hollowing-out effect on the city centre especially. The plan will be tailored to the needs of Dublin, and will examine how we can help workers adapt and retrain for the jobs of the future.

I wrote to the Tánaiste a month ago seeking a meeting with all local representatives to discuss the situation in Baldoyle. In the past six months there have been two separate announcements of job losses, affecting more than 540 people. I wrote to him again to seek a meeting with our local representatives. Does the Tánaiste feel that our local representatives, Deputies from all parties, are part of the solution? We are, obviously, in daily contact with many of the people who are affected by this issue. We want to ensure that Baldoyle represents a viable investment opportunity in the future.

With two such announcements in a short period of time, the least I would have expected from the Tánaiste is that we would have had that meeting of all representatives. Two letters later and we are still no closer to that meeting. I again ask him to use the opportunity of this forum and this interaction with me to commit to having that meeting so that we can work together to avoid further job losses in Baldoyle and to ensure we get support for those affected by the job losses that have been announced.

If we can find a suitable time when all the public representatives from the area are available, I would be happy to do that. I have received a request from the Deputy, but just from him and not from all the representatives in the area. Certainly, if we can all agree a suitable time, I would be happy to speak to him about the issue. I do not know if he can be part of the solution, but if he has anything constructive to offer, such as investors he knows are interested or anything useful that I can pursue, I would be very happy to listen to that.

Obviously, in the meantime we are working, as we always do when there are job losses in an area, with the enterprise agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, to try to find an alternative employer for the site. We have been pretty successful at that in recent weeks and months as the Deputy will know. Within a few months of Aptar's closure in Ballinasloe, we were able to find Chanelle Pharma which is willing to invest in that and hire 60 people. That is the approach we generally take, working with the enterprise agencies to find alternative investors and alternative employment. If the Deputy can make any constructive contribution in any way, I would very much welcome it.

I welcome the Tánaiste's remarks and his commitment to having a meeting. He will appreciate that I might be a bit frustrated. In two letters from me over the course of a month, I did not get anywhere. Then in an oral exchange in this Chamber I have now got a commitment to a meeting. However, I will take that in good faith and we can certainly work together.

If two such announcements involving more than 540 job losses happened anywhere else in the State, I am sure that a slew of Ministers would be travelling to that location to say how hard they were working to ensure that there would be no further announcements and that they would give as much support as they possibly could to the workers affected. Some of the remarks made, particularly the Sudocrem announcement about the site in which it was operating, were particularly concerning. I hope the Tánaiste will appreciate that we are trying to protect the futures of the workers involved and also to ensure that the remarks made by the withdrawing companies will not be replicated in the coming period.

We are focusing on trying to find alternative employment for the people who work there. That is being led by the Department of Social Protection, Intreo and SOLAS offering skills. Under my remit, IDA Ireland is aware that these sites may become available next year and is exploring options for alternative investors and is engaging with both companies. As I have said, I am happy to have a meeting at a suitable time with the public representatives from the area. Again, I say to the Deputy if he has anything helpful or constructive he feels he could do, anything useful at all, to help to find alternative employment for the site, I would welcome that. Criticism is easy; a meaningful contribution is a bit tougher.

Employment Rights

Paul Murphy

Question:

4. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he envisages introducing a mandatory sick pay scheme before the end of the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30239/21]

Does the Tánaiste envisage introducing a mandatory sick pay scheme before the end of the Covid-19 pandemic? I ask him to make a statement on the matter.

The Government is committed to introducing a statutory sick pay scheme and work is well advanced. We have held a public consultation that received 118 submissions and have had regular consultation with the social partners on it. An interdepartmental group on sick pay was established and an international review of best practice was completed. Legislation is being prepared and will be brought to the Government for approval shortly - hopefully this month.

In introducing this legislation we will be adding to the range of reforms the Government has introduced in recent years to improve social protections, terms and conditions for workers including seven increases in the minimum wage, the introduction of paternity benefit, parental leave benefit, enhanced maternity benefit, a national minimum wage which is now the sixth highest in the developed world and restrictions on zero-hour contracts. Other recent reforms include the extension of social insurance benefits to the self-employed, such as treatment benefit, invalidity pension, jobseeker's benefit and a contributory State pension with no means test.

I looked at some of those 118 submissions to the public consultation in November and December. There seemed to be a high level of resistance from employers to the concept of any kind of real fund. I will give an example of some of the correspondence submitted. One employer stated that the rate of pay should be the current illness benefit and then topped up by the employer if they so wish. Another wrote that there should be an earnings threshold as employers will not want to pay sick leave for part-time, seasonal and temporary employees. A third one commented that having a waiting period makes sense as it will prevent people calling in sick on a whim. I sincerely hope that the Minister is not aiming to split the difference between a real sick pay scheme and these kinds of backward 19th century attitudes. I ask him to assure the House that is what we are talking about here is a mandatory employer sick pay scheme at 100% of wages for all workers, which is what a proper scheme would involve.

This is not the Soviet Union. This is a democracy and people are allowed to make submissions. The Deputy pointed out that 118 submissions were made, some by employees and some by employers. Some of them were by paid advocates and some of them were by people who were none of those things. They are entitled to make their views known. I do not believe that employers and business people are the enemy here. It is absolutely right that we would listen to their views and not shut them out from policy making. The same applies to unions. I always listen to all sides when it comes to making decisions like this.

This is a Government commitment. I am leading it. We will introduce statutory sick pay this year. The legislation will certainly be done this year with the Deputies' co-operation and will come into effect at the end of the year or no later than early next year. We are looking at international comparisons. For example, Northern Ireland has a statutory scheme paying £90 a week which is totally inadequate in my view. It will need to be much better than that, for example. We need to bear in mind that many businesses are suffering.

The Tánaiste is quite correct in saying that it is not the Soviet Union and it is a democracy. For workers, it feels like a dictatorship in the workplace. He can ask the childcare workers, 84% of whom do not have do not have an employer who pays in any sick pay, or the meat plant workers, 90% of whom, according to Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, do not have an employer who pays in any sick pay. We do not even know what the position is in the nursing homes.

Some 80% are privately owned and are under no obligation by law to have a sick pay scheme. Their representatives who appeared before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response would not disclose how many of the homes operated a sick pay scheme. That is more like an economic dictatorship than an economic democracy.

I ask the Tánaiste to note that a mandatory employer sick pay scheme at 100% of wages for all workers is what working people will say is a proper sick pay scheme. I sincerely hope he is not going to try to split the difference between that and the kind of backward attitudes we saw represented in many of those submissions.

No matter what we do, the Deputy is going to say it is not enough. He has written the press release already before he has seen what we intend to do. That is his role in politics but it is not a particularly constructive one. My role in politics is actually to get things done. I refer to things like the seven increases in the minimum wage and the restoration of public sector pay. We are moving towards a living wage. We have added any number of additional social benefits in recent years, from paternity benefit to parental leave and others. The next thing I am doing to enhance workers' rights in this country is the introduction of a statutory sick pay scheme. About half of the people in the country have it and the other half do not. That is wrong. Most people in the private sector do not and that is wrong. I am going to change it. I am going to get the balance right because we need to bear in mind that hundreds of thousands of people are out of work and many businesses are struggling. If somebody is off sick, the employer not only has to pay for their replacement but will now also have to pay for their absence. We do not want to arrive at a situation where we go so far, so fast, that people have their hours cut or end up being laid off. The Deputy would be delighted with that because he could then blame the Government and the bosses but that would be totally disingenuous.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Seán Canney

Question:

5. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to provide additional economic supports to businesses as they exit Covid-19 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30410/21]

The recovery and resilience plan was announced this week. There are particular issues around small businesses and how they are going to be treated. Many people fell through the net with regard to the supports to date. I ask the Tánaiste to make a statement on the matter.

I thank the Deputy for his question. As he will be aware, the Government launched its economic recovery plan last Tuesday. It will restore our public finances to good health through employment and not austerity, by going for growth and not retrenchment, and by aiming for a rapid recovery. It will help to restore existing jobs and create new ones in areas like construction, climate action and digital transformation. We have set the target to have 2.5 million people at work in Ireland by 2024, setting a new record. It is also about building a new economy that is more inclusive and more secure with a move to a living wage, sick pay, occupational pensions for all workers, flexibility in the workplace, remote working and more opportunity for training, education, research and gender equality. We intend to rebuild sustainable enterprises through targeted financial supports and policies to make enterprises more resilient and productive. We want to achieve a balanced and inclusive recovery through strategic investment in infrastructure and reforms that enhance our long-term capacity for growth, through balanced regional development and through improvements in living standards.

The measures outlined in the economic recovery plan include an extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, until the end of the year; an extension of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, until February of next year; a commitment that the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, will run indefinitely; considerable enhancement of both EWSS and CRSS in how they are calculated; an extension of the commercial rates waiver into the third quarter of the year; an extension of the tax debt warehousing scheme to the end of the year, with no interest next year; assistance for the worst affected sectors including aviation, tourism and events as they continue to reopen; an extension of the 9% VAT rate for tourism and hospitality sector until September of next year; and dedicated schemes for the live entertainment and events sector which will be announced later in the month. I recently announced an expansion of the small business assistance scheme for Covid-19, which now under phase 2 will include eligibility for businesses operating from non-rateable premises and thereby cover those working from home, and a microenterprise fund for those with a turnover of less than €50,000.

I thank the Tánaiste. There is an array of supports there and they are all very welcome. I also welcome the fact that he has extended supports for people who are working from home, especially in the digital age, and for catering companies that do not have premises where the public are coming in. That is something that was missing.

One of the challenges facing employers right now is the fact that we need to incentivise and encourage them to take on employees. There are business people coming into me in my constituency office in Galway East talking about the fact that it is very hard to get people to work. I have encountered the case of a company that is trying to bring people in from India for specialised work that it wants to get done to keep its production lines going. There is a very significant challenge there. What kind of supports will be made available to help companies in that particular case?

Every business and sector is different. We have a set of schemes which operate horizontally, as my officials like to say, across all sectors. We also have some dedicated schemes to help particular sectors that are being very badly affected. The Deputy will be aware that the other day the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, opened the music and entertainment business assistance scheme, which is a special scheme for musicians and artists and people who work in that sector. Together we have developed an events sector scheme which will be open for applications later this month. As I mentioned, the second round of the small business assistance scheme will now apply to people who do not operate from rateable premises such as businesses that operate from home, for example, which had been left out previously.

Regarding the recruitment of staff, I met all of the employer representative bodies in the last two days. Without exception, they all said they are having difficulty recruiting staff and getting staff back. When one drills down through that, it is for many different reasons. This idea of people refusing to go back to work is overstated. Many people have gone home to central and eastern Europe. Others have got on with their lives and have found jobs in other sectors. We are going to find ourselves in a strange space in a few months' time when we have hundreds of thousands of people on welfare but also hundreds of thousands of vacancies. We need to fix that mismatch.

The Tánaiste is saying that there is such an array of different issues out there that we need to ensure we keep on top of them horizontally, across them all. I am disappointed that there is no mention of mental health in the resilience and recovery plan. If we need to restart, to grow and to develop our economy, we need to promote mental health for our people who will build the country. As the WHO has stated, mental health is central in building a healthy, inclusive and productive economy. I trust that the Government will take this on board because it is one of the legacies we have from the pandemic. I encourage the Government to ensure that mental health is built into all economic recoveries across all Departments and that supports are made available to everybody in employment and to employers to ensure the mental health of our nation is also recovered.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. He is spot on about mental health and I could not agree more. We still do not know what impact Covid-19 and the lockdown have had on people's mental health. It will vary a great deal from those who have been bereaved to people who have been stuck in their homes, younger people and those affected by the increase in domestic violence. I am sure that the Deputy will concede that something not being specifically mentioned in a document does not mean it is not important, or not important to the Government. There is a specific section on mental health in the Covid-19 recovery plan and that was backed up by additional funding for mental health agencies. When the pandemic is over, and it will end, there will still be many wounds to be healed and among those will be some related to people's mental health as well as their physical health.