Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together.
Sick Leave Bill 2022: From the Seanad
As amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are grouped, I will speak to both amendments.
Amendment No. 1 makes a minor but useful change to the Minister’s power to set the number of sick leave days by order. As originally formulated, it would have required the Minister to specify the number of additional days to which employees will be entitled. The amendment means that an order can now simply specify the overall number of days of statutory sick leave. This reduces the risk of confusion. A single ministerial order will specify one's entitlements.
Amendment No. 2 aligns the language of section 6 more closely with section 5, as amended.
Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be discussed together.
On Report Stage in the Dáil, the Tánaiste accepted an amendment that removed the power of the Minister to reduce the number of statutory sick leave days by regulation. These are consequential, technical amendments made in the Seanad and they reflect the change in policy, in that the number of sick days can only be increased. This formed part of the debate in this House and the Seanad.
Section 6(2)(b)(i), previously provided that the Minister could not reduce the number of sick leave days by more than three days at a time. This is now redundant as the Minister no longer has regulation-making power to reduce the number of sick leave days provided for. Amendment No. 3 accordingly removes that reference.
Amendment No. 4 aligns the language in section 6(2)(c) to reflect the change made to paragraph (b). These amendments have no policy impacts; they simply make the Bill consistent throughout.
I thank Opposition Members and all the parties for their co-operation on all stages of the Bill in both Houses over the past 18 months. While there were different amendments and slight disagreements, generally we were all supportive of the Bill and how important it is for Ireland to have a statutory sick pay scheme. I thank Members for their help and support and the Tánaiste for his drive behind this and throughout the Department in making sure it was completed.
I recognise that this has put a lot of pressure on the system in the Department to make sure the legislation was ready to be introduced this year. I thank our team here, Orla Reidy and Dara Breathnach, and Wendy Gray, who could not be with us here today, for all their efforts and work on that. Previous to this, we worked very closely with Clare Dunne, assistant secretary, at the start of this legislation because there is a lot of work involved from all the team.
This is important legislation that will strengthen Ireland's hand when it comes to attracting and retaining talent for all our employers. We also recognise that this comes at a cost to employers. We will work with them in the months ahead and into the new year on supports for businesses, which might need assistance, in our customer-facing role. The Tánaiste was clear during the discussion in this House that we would do that. Likewise, there were issues raised with the cost of medical certificates and going to the doctor. There is an ongoing commitment on that in the programme for Government too. On balance, this is positive legislation that will be improved year by year in the time ahead. It is hoped it will help when it comes to attracting and retaining talent and recognising the hard work that people do while also protecting our public health in general. I thank all involved.
I welcome, on behalf of Sinn Féin, the passing of the Bill. It is an important day for workers. It is the first time we have had a statutory right to sick pay for an awful lot of people. I welcome that very much. There were a few issues we had with the Bill, but we are happy to support it. The Minister of State referred to the issue of sick certificates for people who are sick. That is a particular problem for low-paid workers who do not have a medical card. Having to pay to go to a GP can cost some of them up to half their daily wages or more. We need to look at that. We may look at adding extra days as well. It is a good day for us and for workers that this Bill has passed. We support it.
I thank the Minister of State and acknowledge that today is a historic day. It is a little bit of history. We did not have a statutory sick pay scheme and now we do. It was on foot of a Labour Party Private Member's Bill that this conversation started. The Minister took it on in good faith, we have come to the conclusion of that discussion and workers are in a better position today in Ireland than they were two years ago. While it is not perfect, we will work with it and try to improve it. I credit the Department, the Minister of State and the Tánaiste for working with us to get it to this point. Workers are in a better position today than they were two years ago, and that will always be a good day, particularly for people in the Labour Party. In particular, I thank and pay tribute to the efforts of Senator Sherlock in this regard.