Thursday, 11 March 2004

Questions (172, 173)

Seán Crowe

Question:

173 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the classification used by her Department for part-time work and casual labour and the criteria applied for those designated part-time or casual employees to receive benefit or assistance for days not worked. [8144/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

Social welfare legislation provides that a person is regarded as being engaged in casual employment for unemployment benefit purposes where he or she is normally employed for periods of less than a week; the number of days and the days of the week on which the person is employed varies with the level of activity in the employer's business and on the termination of each period of employment, the person has no assurance of being re-employed with the same employer.

If the person's work pattern does not comply with all these requirements, he or she cannot be classified as a casual worker. Social welfare legislation also provides that a person is regarded as being engaged in systematic short-time working where his or her full-time working week is reduced by the employer and where there is a clear repetitive pattern of employment each week. The number of days of benefit payable each week to a systematic short-time worker is limited to ensure that the total number of days paid and the number of days worked do not exceed five.

For unemployment benefit purposes, part-time employment is regarded as employment where the employee is engaged to work for less than the normal full-time number of days or hours in the employment concerned. The volume of work must be of an ongoing nature but not sufficient to sustain full-time employment.

With one exception, casual, systematic, short-time and part-time workers are treated no differently from any other unemployed person. With regard to the conditions for entitlement to unemployment benefit, the exception is that casual workers are exempt from the substantial loss of employment condition. This categorisation of workers does not apply in the case of unemployment assistance where claimants are not subject to a substantial loss of employment condition. However, social welfare legislation provides that where a person works for up to three days a week either on a casual or part-time basis, earnings are assessed at 60% for unemployment assistance purposes. In addition, persons without children are allowed a €12.70 disregard for each day worked, while the balance of earnings are assessed at 60%. Casual or part-time workers are subject to the same conditions as any other unemployed person for entitlement to unemployment assistance.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

174 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has satisfied herself that fair treatment and payment is being given to contributory widows or widowers who find themselves unemployed and no longer entitled to half rate payment of unemployment, disability, maternity or injury benefit or unemployment supplement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8164/04]

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The social welfare system is primarily a contingency based system, with entitlement based on pre-defined contingencies, such as sickness or unemployment. While it can happen that a person may experience more than one contingency at the same time, for example, an unemployed person may become sick, a general principle usually applies whereby even if a person experiences more than one of the contingencies at any one time, they only receive one of those payments. This principle is common to social security systems across the world.

Under the Irish social welfare system there have been a limited number of exceptions to this general principle. In the past these included the situation whereby a recipient of widow's/er's pension could, at the same time, receive short-term social insurance benefits such as disability benefit or unemployment benefit at half rate if the contingency arose.

In the context of preparation of the spending Estimates for 2004, this entitlement to concurrent half-rate payment of a number of benefits was discontinued for new claimants with effect from 19 January 2004. Existing recipients were not affected by this measure for the duration of their claim. The measure was introduced in response to the pressure on Government spending and to provide scope for resources to be found for general improvements in social welfare provision in the budget. Removal of social welfare entitlements is never palatable but the introduction of this measure was necessary in the circumstances which prevailed at the time.

It is my intention that the operation of this and other measures will be kept under review and any necessary adjustments will be made in the light of this.