The Government is concerned about the extent of dependence on State-funded sickness benefit schemes. Expenditure on total short-term and long-term illness and disability payments increased from €1.1 billion in 2001, to €2.7 billion in 2011.
Earlier this year, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, initiated a consultation process to discuss potential changes to the sick pay scheme in Ireland. However, any proposals for changes to the scheme would be a matter for the Budgetary process, which will be considered in due course by the Government.
I am aware of the concerns raised by employer representatives that transferring responsibility for the payment of employees' sick pay to employers will add to the cost of doing business. In this context, any such proposals would impact on competitiveness and employment. The evidence of this impact will need to be weighed against the potential for savings in terms of reduced absences due to sickness.
I will carefully scrutinise any proposals which develop from this consultation phase and their impact on jobs and competitiveness, and I will contribute fully to the Budgetary process within Government.