That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to ensure employers provide employees with FFP-2 grade masks, or higher, where necessary during the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular to education workers and healthcare workers, and to provide for a review of this provision within 3 months of enactment.
The Bill proposes that employers, and in the case of public sector employees the State, will have to provide appropriate personal protective equipment, in particular N95 or FFP2 or higher-quality masks, for everybody to protect them when they are at work. This is a vital issue because we know that Covid is an airborne disease. We know that, unfortunately, it is still with us and that new and even more deadly variants can emerge. If we are to successfully "live with Covid", we have to take extremely seriously issues such as ventilation and mask wearing.
This is a public health issue. It is a workers' rights issue. The very least that can be done is to say that workers are entitled to get masks to protect them in their places of work. It is ironic that we walk into the Dáil and on the right-hand side there is a table with high-quality FFP2 masks. These masks give us all significantly higher levels of protection than either the cloth or surgical masks that many people wear. They multiply the level of protection that people have. It is not okay that we as Deputies and Senators in our place of work get these to protect us and teachers, shop workers or transport workers do not get them. There are all sorts of workers who have face-to-face interaction with the public all of the time. To be clear I am not saying that Deputies should not get them. I think it is great that Deputies get them and everybody who works in the Oireachtas should be able to avail of them. The point is that they should be made available to all workers. This is about taking seriously the issues of ventilation, worker safety and public health.
It is a very simple measure. It would have very limited costs for employers and the State but it would make a big difference in terms of the safety of workers in their workplaces. It would also make a significant difference over time to the spread of Covid and the impact that the spread of Covid has had, most horrifically in terms of the deaths that continue to occur from Covid-19 and absences from work, the massive disruption in people's lives and the massive extra caring burden placed on people, primarily women. It would impact all of these things. When the Government moved to undo the requirement for mask wearing it made a point of stating it would get rid of the requirement but that the strong public health advice and the advice from the Government would be that we need to have mask wearing everywhere. This has not been the case in reality. The Government has not followed through with this advice. We rarely nowadays see advertisements encouraging people to wear masks. The Government should take seriously its own rhetoric.
It should strongly encourage people to wear proper masks that give people the best protection they can, as well as investing in ventilation and filtration. The Government should match that by saying it will provide quality masks for ordinary people for free so they have a choice and can avail of masks to provide the best protection for themselves and those with whom they come into contact.
I thank the people in my office who worked on this Bill.