Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (577)

Robert Troy

Question:

577. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the guidance and advisory documents to be published by her Department or a State agency under her remit with regard to the reopening of businesses as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted; and the estimated publishing date for each such document in tabular form. [5995/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is the overarching guidance for employers and employees with regard to the reopening of businesses as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

It is the result of a collaborative effort by my Department, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), the Health Services Executive (HSE) and the Department of Health and is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, when the economy begins to slowly open up, following the temporary closure of most businesses during the worst phase of the current pandemic.

This Protocol should be used by all workplaces to adapt their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the HSE and the Department of Health.  It will operate in parallel with existing workplace health and safety statutory requirements.

The Protocol sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take before a workplace reopens, and while it continues to operate.

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is an essential part of the move towards the gradual lifting of the current restrictions, re-opening businesses, getting people back to employment and re-igniting our economy.

The HSA has also produced the following guides:

COVID-19 – Advice for Employers and Employees

COVID-19 FAQs for Employers and Employees in relation to Home-Working on a temporary basis

COVID–19 Conformity Assessment and Market Surveillance procedures for PPE

Additional Business Continuity Information and Advice

Return to Work Safely Templates and Checklists.  

These can all be found using the following link https://www.hsa.ie/eng/topics/covid-19/covid-19_coronavirus.html .

In addition to this, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), which is an agency of my Department,  has produced Guidance on Manufacturing and Importing PPE and Medical Devices and COVID-19 Retail Protection and Improvement Guide and these are available here https://www.nsai.ie/covid-19/ .

In the context of NSAI’s work on progressing guidance for various sectors across the economy, my Department is currently considering for which other sectors it may be appropriate to request NSAI to develop further guidance.  The estimated dates for publication of such advisory documents are not yet available.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (578)

Robert Troy

Question:

578. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she or her Ministerial colleagues are examining proposals for certain business sectors, for example, construction, hairdressers and barbers, restaurants and hospitality, to fully return to work under appropriate safety guidelines earlier than the timeline envisaged for their sector in the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, published on 1 May 2020; and the process for reviewing the timelines set for each sector in the document. [5996/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

On 15th May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th . This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.  

Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.  

The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html  

The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie .  

In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/ .

On 8th May the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30th June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country, I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to flex the plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.  

Health and Safety Authority

Questions (579)

Robert Troy

Question:

579. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if additional resources, that is, staff and funding will be needed for the Health and Safety Authority with respect to the reopening of businesses as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted; if so, the exact number of staff and additional funding that will required; the number of full and part-time staff employed in the HSA in each of the years 2016 to 2019 and to date in 2020, by staff according to civil service grade and other staff; and the breakdown of funding allocated to the HSA in each of the years 2016 to 2020, in tabular form. [5997/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

As the Deputy will be aware, I launched the national “Return to Work Safely Protocol” Saturday, 9 May 2020.

From 2016 to date the HSA has had about 100 inspectors in the grade. Some of these are involved in the management and scheduling of inspections, and others are involved in carrying out a range statutory activity including market surveillance of products (including PPE) and chemicals and investigations into workplace fatalities and accidents, so not all of these inspectors can be deployed in the field at the same time. However, the HSA is currently deploying all its available inspectors across sectors to carry out both spot checks and other inspections to check compliance with the Protocol.  The HSA inspectorate will be supplemented significantly by deploying other inspectors from across the system who already have an environmental health, agriculture or other workplace/business inspection responsibilities.  While details such as Service Level Agreements etc. are currently being finalised, I can say that the numbers of additional resources working with the HSA will be in the hundreds, from across the system.  These will be specialist officials who already have sectoral business inspection or monitoring responsibilities.  Compliance with the Covid Return to Work Safely Protocol will become part of their normal inspection regime.  It will start shortly with some 200 or so officers from the Environmental Health Service, and this number will increase steadily as officials from other parts of the system, with varying sectoral inspection and oversight responsibilities are brought on board, in line with the Government Roadmap.  I can assure you that the Government will not be found wanting in resourcing this important work.

As we have seen with the general public health measures over the past two months, most people are complying with the rules. We can expect the same from employers and workers, most of who want to get back to work, and want the workplace to be safe, for them and for the families that they are returning to in the evenings.

I am expecting employers and workers, in line with what is set out in the Protocol, to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying the clear measures set out in the Protocol, for the health and safety of all concerned.

Even with the enhanced cohort of inspectors available to the HSA, they cannot be expected to go into every business in the country. That would be entirely unrealistic and unachievable. What they will do is a mix of unannounced inspections, along with providing advice and information through the HSA Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline. wcu@hsa.ie  and Tel: 1890 289 389.

 Information on the current resources of the Health and Safety Authority is attached in tabular form.

 Table - Staff and Resources

National Standards Authority of Ireland

Questions (580)

Robert Troy

Question:

580. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if additional resources, that is, staff and funding will be needed for the NSAI with respect to the reopening of businesses as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted; if so, the exact number of staff and additional funding that will required; the number of full and part-time staff employed in the NSAI in each of the years 2016 to 2019 and to date in 2020 by staff according to civil service grade and other staff; and the breakdown in funding allocated to the NSAI in each of the years 2016 to 2020, in tabular form. [5998/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

My Department maintains continuous engagement and oversight in relation to NSAI’s exchequer financing, staffing and recruitment requirements.  In response to the impact of Covid-19 on businesses, the NSAI are monitoring these requirements for 2020, and will bring any future requirements to the attention of my Department if required.

The following table outlines the staffing numbers and the breakdown of funding for the NSAI over the years 2016-2020. 

 

Full time staff in NSAI

Part time staff in NSAI

Fixed term Contract

External Service Delivery

Other staffing*

Breakdown of Funding

2016

117

12

8

22

6

€4.6m

2017

125

13

17

17

5

€5.4m

2018

129

17

23

21

5

€5.7m

2019

143

16

11

18

8

€5.4m

2020

148

14

8

12

8

€6.8m 

*Other staffing includes employees on secondment, Temporary Agency Staff and Intra students.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (581)

Matt Carthy

Question:

581. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if specific supports will be provided to private bus operators to allow them to return to business as Covid-19 restrictions are eased; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6024/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

I announced on April 8 a major expansion of supports for all businesses impacted by COVID-19.

The package is now worth €1 billion in liquidity measures including a new €180m Sustaining Enterprise Fund for firms in the manufacturing and international services sectors. Free mentoring and online training are also available for all SMEs. This package is a significant step-up in the supports available for all businesses in all sectors at this very difficult time. The measures have been developed to meet the varying needs of Irish enterprise and they are very specifically targeted by size, sector and need.

In addition to the new package of liquidity measures I announced are detailed below, the full range of Enterprise Ireland, IDA, Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and Údarás na Gaeltachta grant and advisory supports continue to be available to eligible firms to help with strategies to access finance, commence or ramp-up online trading activity, reconfigure business models, cut costs, innovate, diversify markets and supply chains and to improve competitiveness. 

 In that regard, Government will continue to explore funding potential for all enterprises including micro-enterprises as they work through the challenges facing them, including through any mechanisms allowable through the EU’s state aid framework.

The key measures which constitute the €1 billion in liquidity measures as I announced are set out below.

The SBCI Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme was announced on 11 March and opened for eligibility applications on 23 March. The Covid-19 Working Capital Scheme is offered by my Department in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and is supported by the InnovFin SME Guarantee facility. The scheme is operated by the SBCI. It currently makes available a fund of up to €200 m to eligible businesses that have been negatively affected by impacts arising from the outbreak of Covid-19 to enable those businesses to innovate, change or adapt in response to the current business environment. Following my further announcement on April 8 this Scheme is now being expanded to make available an additional €250 million in lending, which will bring the total amount of lending available under this scheme to €450 million.

Up to 4 May, there has been a total of 2,127 applications received to the COVID-19 WCS, of which 1,834 candidates were eligible, 9 ineligible and 284 applications are currently in process. Of those, 156 loans have progressed to sanction to a total value of €28.02m.

The Future Growth Loan Scheme makes up to €300 million of loans available with a term of 8-10 years and is operated by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) though participating lenders. We have seen strong demand for the scheme since its launch in April 2019 across all sectors and regions including in exporting businesses and family businesses.

Up to 4 May, there has been a total of 3,449 applications for eligibility under the scheme, of which 3,286 have been approved for eligibility under the scheme. The initial €300m funding for the FGLS has been almost fully subscribed, supporting a significant level of strategic investment by businesses. On 8 April, I announced a further expansion of this scheme and my Department is now working through the details of a significant expansion to bring this funding to market as soon as possible.

A new €2,500 Business Continuity Voucher is available through Local Enterprise Offices and is designed for businesses across every sector that employ up to 50 people. It can be used by companies to develop short-term and long-term strategies to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

These measures are in addition to the €150m of funding capacity in the Government’s Credit Guarantee Scheme.

For microenterprises (under 10 employees) and businesses with over 10 employees, Microfinance Ireland (MFI) are administering special COVID-19 Loans, with an additional €13m in capital support bringing its total lending capacity up to €20m for the coming period. There is also a substantial reduction in interest rates on these loans from 7.8% to 4.5%. Loans can be made up to €50,000 with no repayments required and no interest charged in the first six months.

The €2,500 Trading Online Voucher Scheme for microenterprises is being expanded - an additional €3.3m is being provided to the scheme bringing the total available to €5.6m. The scheme is also being made more flexible - allowing businesses to apply for a second voucher of up to €2,500 where they have successfully utilised their first one; and allowing subscriptions to low-cost online retailing platform solutions to quickly establish a retailing presence online.

The €180m Sustaining Enterprise Fund is specifically aimed at all firms with 10 or more employees in the manufacturing and international services sectors impacted by COVID-19 that are vulnerable but viable. The Fund will be operated by Enterprise Ireland, providing repayable advances of up to €800,000 as agreed with the EU under new State Aid rules and, together with leveraged lending from the financial markets, should see up to €500m of additional investment in vulnerable but viable firms. These grants will only be repayable if and when a business returns to financial good health.

A Business Financial Planning Grant from Enterprise Ireland to the value of €5,000 to assist companies to develop a Business Sustainment Plan and to engage the services of an approved Financial Consultant.

A new €2,500 LEAN Business Improvement Grant from Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to help companies quickly access expertise to review and optimise operations at a time of crisis and identify the key measures needed to ensure continued viability.

A new €2m Online Retail Scheme from Enterprise Ireland will be open to retailers employing over 10 people. The objective of the Scheme is to support companies in the indigenous retail sector with a pre-existing online presence to respond to both the domestic and international consumer demand for a competitive online offer. Grants ranging from €10,000 to €40,000 will be awarded under the competitive scheme.

 On Saturday 2 May last, I also announced a further suite of measures to support small, medium and larger business that are negatively impacted by Covid-19 with Minister Paschal Donohoe, T.D., Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform and Minister Eoghan Murphy, T.D.,  Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. This package of support followed the publication of the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society & Business, which sets out a five-stage plan to ease the Covid-19 restrictions and reopen Ireland’s economy and society. The new measures we announced included:

- A €10,000 restart grant for micro and small businesses based on a rates/waiver rebate from 2019;

- A three-month commercial rates waiver for impacted businesses;

- A €2 billion Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund within the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which will make capital available to medium and large enterprises on commercial terms;

- A €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme to support lending to SMEs for terms ranging from 3 months to 6 years, which will be below market interest rates;

- The ‘warehousing’ of tax liabilities for a period of twelve months after recommencement of trading during which time there will be no debt enforcement action taken by Revenue and no interest charge accruing in respect of the warehoused debt; and,

- A commitment to local authorities to make up the rates shortfall, so that local authorities can continue provide full services to the public.

I can assure the Deputy that I continue to work with my colleagues across Government to examine further appropriate supports to assist businesses impacted by Covid-19.

My colleague, Minister Shane Ross T.D., Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport may be able to provide more specific guidelines or supports designed to suit private bus operators.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (582)

Matt Carthy

Question:

582. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she will meet with representatives of cinema operators to ensure that reopening of cinemas occurs at the right time and with the right procedures. [6025/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening. It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

On 15th May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th . This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

I have not met with the representatives of cinema operators. However, I have regular engagement with the various business representative groups through my Department’s Enterprise Forum on Covid-19 and the Retail Consultation Forum both of which I Chair. I will continue to maintain that dialogue with stakeholders so that we can work towards getting people back to work safely.

Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures. Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures. It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.

The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html

The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace. If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie.

In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

On 8th May the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30th June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country. I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so. My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to amend its plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions Nos. 584 to 586, inclusive, answered with Question No. 520.

Questions (583)

Matt Carthy

Question:

583. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she has taken to ensure that reopening of all sectors happen in tandem on an all-Ireland basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6027/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

On 15 May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday 18 May. This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to amend its plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. The Roadmap will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.

While there is close engagement with the Northern Ireland Authorities in a variety of forums on how to contain the virus, my Department does not have a remit in relation to deciding which sectors can reopen in Northern Ireland.

Questions Nos. 584 to 586, inclusive, answered with Question No. 520.

Employment Rights

Questions (587)

Barry Cowen

Question:

587. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the recourse an employee has if they are of the view that Covid-19 workplace guidance is not being adhered to by the employer or in cases in which they view their health is being compromised by the working conditions in place; her views on whether it is appropriate in such a case for an employer to take enforcement action against that employee; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6093/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

As the Deputy will be aware, I launched the national “Return to Work Safely Protocol” Saturday, 9 May 2020. The Protocol was drafted in close consultation with the social partners under the auspices of the Labour and Employer Economic Forum and agreed with them.

The Protocol sets out the requirements for businesses and employers on the steps required to address the risks arising from COVID-19 public health protection measures in the workplace and all businesses are required to comply fully with the Protocol. It also sets out in very clear terms the steps that the employer and worker must take when a workplace reopens and while it continues to operate.

Compliance with the Return to Work Safely Protocol is being led by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), who have overall responsibility for ensuring the health, safety and welfare at work of all workers.

Employers and workers are required, in line with what is set out in the Protocol, to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying the clear measures set out in the Protocol, for the health and safety of all concerned. However, any worker with concerns about the manner in which public health measures are being adhered to at their place of work should bring these concerns to their employer and to the COVID-19 worker representative in the first instance and they can of course also contact the Health and Safety Authority Workplace Contract unit  wcu@hsa.ie  and Tel: 1890 289 389.

I am satisfied that the overall approach will ensure the necessary collaboration and co-operation between employers and employees who share the common goal of keeping workplaces safe.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (588)

Matt Carthy

Question:

588. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she will meet with representatives of cinema operators to ensure that reopening of cinemas occurs at the right time and with the right procedures. [6096/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

On 15th May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th . This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

I have not met with the representatives of cinema operators. However, I have regular engagement with the various business representative groups through my Department’s Enterprise Forum on Covid-19 and the Retail Consultation Forum both of which I Chair. I will continue to maintain that dialogue with stakeholders so that we can work towards getting people back to work safely.

Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.  

The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html  

The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie .

In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/ .

On 8th May the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30th June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country, I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to amend its plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.  

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (589)

Frank Feighan

Question:

589. Deputy Frankie Feighan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if correspondence (details supplied) will be examined; when smaller tech hubs and co-working hubs in rural Ireland will be permitted to open during the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6119/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

On 15th May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th . This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.

Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.  

The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html  

The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie .

 In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes the wage subsidy scheme, grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/ .

On 8th May the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30th June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country. I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to amend its plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.  

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (590)

Robert Troy

Question:

590. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to adequately deal with businesses that are closed due to Covid-19 and that are unable to keep their terms of their commercial leases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6132/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The issues businesses are facing in respect of commercial rents/leases have been raised with me through the Enterprise Forum and Retail Forum, both of which I chair, and other channels.

These are difficult times and many companies have had to temporarily close their businesses and/or premise(s), curtail their activities or make alternative work arrangements due to COVID-19 restrictions. I am keenly aware that some businesses, particularly in the retail sector, are concerned that some landlords are continuing to insist on the payment of rents and leases as normal despite their premises being closed.

At the same time, we must remember that landlords have their own financial obligations, like debt repayments, insurance or security costs, that still need to be paid. Where a landlord has debt in place, their flexibility will likely be driven by what their bank / lender will accept. The Minister for Finance raised the broader issue of rents in meetings with the pillar banks. He referenced this in his announcement of 18th March concerning an arrangement with the banks to the effect that any landlord who has agreed a deal with the banks on foot of the arrangement will be expected to pass the benefit on to their tenants. I reiterated this in the Dáil on 30th April last.

While commercial leases are primarily a contractual matter for the tenant and the landlord, the Government has urged landlords to demonstrate forbearance in these extraordinary times and to play their part, as everyone must, in helping the country through this difficult period. I would encourage tenants and landlords to engage with each other on this matter and come to some arrangement as it is in everybody’s interest that terms are amicably agreed.

I have asked my officials to raise the matter of commercial rents and leases across a number of Government Departments. An initial inter-departmental discussion has already taken place and I understand further engagement is underway with a range of stakeholders, including groups representing businesses and landlords, to gain additional insights and gather intelligence to inform any further discussions. I have also asked my officials to look into the different responses from other countries and to identify possible options for supports.

While different options are being explored, I would point out that any support to business in respect of rents alone would ultimately end up as a support to the landlord. Not only would it be difficult to estimate the costs involved for such a scheme, but the offering of support, or even the perception that such supports will be forthcoming, may affect the market and lessen the impetus for landlords to renegotiate with tenants.

The matter of legal protections for businesses who are unable to pay their commercial rents has been raised with the Attorney General. Specifically, I asked about the potential for legislation to prevent the eviction of commercial tenants who have failed to pay rent as a result of the pandemic and the possibility of legislating to place a moratorium on businesses having to pay rent for premises they cannot used due to the restrictions imposed by Government. I have just received a response in which the Attorney General advises that there are significant legal difficulties in respect to both of the questions posed. The difficulties stem from a variety of legal bases including statutory, constitutional, contract and common law. I have asked my officials to consider the advice.

The Government is committed to ensuring as many businesses as possible survive this challenging period, and it will continue to look at how we can support businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. I would like to point out that, on 2nd May, the Government announced an additional suite of measures to further support small, medium and larger business that have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. These included:

- A €10,000 restart grant for micro and small businesses based on a rates waiver/rebate from 2019;

- A three-month commercial rates waiver for impacted businesses;

- A €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme to support lending to SMEs for terms ranging from 3 months to 6 years, which will be below market interest rates; - A €2 billion Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund within the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which will make capital available to medium and large enterprises on commercial terms; and

- The ‘warehousing’ of tax liabilities for a period of twelve months after recommencement of trading during which time there will be no debt enforcement action taken by Revenue and no interest charge accruing in respect of the warehoused debt.

These supports acknowledge that impacted businesses need time and space to restructure and resume activity, without the added pressures of trying to repay legacy debts, such as commercial rents, when revenues are just beginning to return.

Further information on all of these and additional Government supports for COVID-19 impacted businesses can be found at www.gov.ie or on my Department’s website (https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/ ).

Workplace Safety

Questions (591, 623)

Robert Troy

Question:

591. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of staff in both the HSA and HSE attributed to deal with businesses that fail to adhere to Covid-19 guidelines. [6133/20]

View answer

Robert Troy

Question:

623. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the requirements including the specific legal requirements that employers will have to meet under the National Return to Work Safely Protocol; the expected number of workplace inspectors that will be needed for implementation of this protocol; the number of inspectors employed by the Health and Safety Authority; the additional number that will be taken on for the remainder of the Covid-19 period; and the estimated cost of additional staff resources. [6561/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 591 and 623 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, I launched the national “Return to Work Safely Protocol” Saturday, 9 May 2020.

The Protocol was drafted in close consultation with the social partners under the auspices of the Labour and Employer Economic Forum and agreed with them.

Under the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, the HSA has full powers to oversee compliance with the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in their place of work. While COVID-19 is a public health issue, the infectious nature of the virus and the way in which it is easily transmitted through human contact, makes it a workplace health and safety issue as well as a general health matter. Neither health, safety nor welfare are narrowly defined in the 2005 Act, so the HSA has all of the powers that it needs.

The HSA is deploying all its available inspectors across sectors to carry out both spot checks and other inspections to check compliance with the Protocol. The HSA inspectorate will be supplemented significantly by deploying, under the authority of the HSA, other inspectors from across the system who already have an environmental health, agriculture or other workplace/business inspection responsibilities. As we have seen with the general public health measures over the past two months, most people are complying with the rules. We can expect the same from employers and workers, most of who want to get back to work, and want the workplace to be safe, for them and for the families that they are returning to in the evenings.

I am expecting employers and workers, in line with what is set out in the Protocol, to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying the clear measures set out in the Protocol, for the health and safety of all concerned.

Even with the enhanced cohort of inspectors available to the HSA, they cannot be expected to go into every business in the country. That would be entirely unrealistic and unachievable. What they will do is a mix of unannounced inspections, along with providing advice and information through the HSAs Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline.

If, following contact from a worker, and follow-up engagement with the employer, they feel that an inspection is warranted, they will follow up with an on-site visit.

Importantly, if, on foot of an inspection, the inspector forms the opinion that further action is required, the appropriate action - up to and including the closure of a workplace - will be taken using the relevant powers. Where relevant, the public health authorities will be involved.

Trade Strategy

Questions (592)

Robert Troy

Question:

592. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her views on whether there is a need to bring forward new measures to underpin the trade credit scheme; if she has met with the trade credit insurance companies; and if so, the progress made to date. [6135/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

I am aware of the significant impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on all businesses and this includes the private trade credit insurance market.

As a result of the significant economic shock, there is increased uncertainty regarding the financial performance of many companies in our economy.  I understand that the trade credit insurance companies have had to adjust their coverage in response to this adverse economic environment.

In response the Government has already introduced a range of measures and supports to the economy in order to sustain and over time facilitate a return to a more normal trading environment.  This in turn should permit the trade credit market to reconsider the risk environment and adjust their coverage as appropriate.     

In addition my Department continues to consider further options for appropriate and effective assistance to businesses and this includes the possibility of supports to ensure the continued provision of credit insurance and the appropriate mechanism to do so.

My officials are engaging with the private trade credit insurance providers to determine whether specific support can be provided to this market and how this could complement other general supports provided by the Government. 

Such support will be considered as part of the range of measures provided to businesses.

This is an ongoing process.

Examinership Arrangements

Questions (593)

Robert Troy

Question:

593. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the progress being made on amending the examinership legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6136/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

My Department is progressing, with the Company Law Review Group (CLRG), proposals for amendments to the Companies Act to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on business. Among them are a range of proposals relating to the examinership process. 

Examinership remains very relevant in the context of preserving viable businesses and protecting jobs. It is a managed process that includes the interests of customers, creditors, suppliers, employees and staff. Any changes to our long standing examinership process must be pursued in a manner that guards against unintended consequences, particularly as these consequences could be adverse for other companies, employees and the Exchequer.

The CLRG is a statutory body charged with advising me on all matters pertaining to company law to promote enterprise and enhance corporate governance. Membership of the CLRG is wide and representative of the broad range of stakeholders with an interest in company law, including representatives for small business, ISME and the SFA. This group is ideally positioned to fully consider the many issues arising from a unique wide-ranging perspective.

This work is being prioritised by all involved and I expect to have an update from the CLRG shortly, once deliberations have concluded.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Questions (594)

Bríd Smith

Question:

594. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her views on cases in which workers are told their company is accessing the WSS and in which this results in a payment significantly below the PUP €350 or the regular jobseeker’s payment due to the fact the calculation is based on earnings for January and February 2020 and the workers concerned may have had little net earnings due to the fact their work is seasonal in nature; the remedy open to workers in this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6154/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

As the Deputy will be aware this is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Finance.

I understand that the legislation underpinning the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) is contained in Section 28 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020. Of necessity, the legislation and the scheme itself were developed very quickly to support the urgent Government objective of getting much needed assistance to employers and employees that have been seriously affected by the pandemic.  

The TWSS builds on data returned to Revenue through its real-time PAYE system. It must be accepted that the underlying legislation and the scheme itself simply cannot be tailored to meet every individual unique set of circumstances for either employers or employees.

The core principles of the scheme, as prescribed in the underlying law, are that –

- the business is suffering significant negative economic impact due to the pandemic,

- the employees were on the payroll at 29 February 2020, and

- the employer had fulfilled its PAYE reporting obligations for February 2020 by 15 March 2020.

The changes to Revenue’s systems required to fully implement the TWSS have been delivered incrementally since the scheme commenced on 26 March 2020. The latest phase of the scheme implements the revised subsidy rates, as determined by the Minister for Finance, in accordance with the legislation and is effective from 4 May 2020 for most employees. This phase is based on providing employers with details of the maximum personal subsidy amount to be paid to individual employees based on their previous average net weekly pay.   

On 15 April 2020, the Minister for Finance announced further updates to the TWSS. Included in the updates were measures to increase the wage subsidy for certain lower paid employees.  In effect, for those employees with previous net pay of less than €586 per week, the amount of the temporary wage subsidy shall not exceed €410 per week in accordance with the following principles:

- an 85% subsidy shall be payable in the case of employees whose average net weekly pay does not exceed €412; and

- a flat rate subsidy of up to €350 shall be payable in the case of employees whose average net weekly pay is more than €412 but not more than €500.

In addition, where an employer wishes to pay a greater level of top-up, in respect of employees with net pay of less than €412 per week, in order to bring the employee’s pay to €350 per week, then tapering would not be applied to the subsidy.

These changes to the TWSS mean that more employees will now receive a subsidy of €350 per week, and those with previous net pay below €412 per week will now receive a greater level of subsidy.

These new rates have been fully operational for payroll submissions made on or after 4 May 2020, with a pay date on or after that same date. 

The changes announced allow the concentration of resources to protect incomes, in a proportionate way having regard to available resources, employer contribution and the broader suite of COVID-19 related supports put in place by the Government.

Currently, the Minister for Finance has no plans to change the average wage calculation to a different period.

Industrial Development

Questions (595)

Matt Carthy

Question:

595. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if construction works on a new advanced technology unit at Knockaconny, County Monaghan has commenced; the expected duration of such works; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6244/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

My Department and the IDA are working hard to attract further investment to County Monaghan, despite the challenges presented by Covid-19.  As the Deputy is aware, the next phase of the IDA's Regional Property Programme (RPP) includes plans for an Advanced Technology Unit (ATU) at Knockaconny in the County.

I was pleased to turn the sod on this building in December, marking the beginning of construction.  Whilst the project was initially scheduled for completion in December 2020, construction has been temporarily put on hold on account of Covid-19. The timeline for the resumption of work remains dependent on  public health advice and the facility’s completion date will be revised accordingly.

In addition to the RPP, the IDA continues to target further investment for Monaghan and the wider region through its regional office in neighbouring Cavan. As part of its strategy to promote the area, the IDA is focusing on the specific sectors of agri-food, manufacturing, tourism and internationally traded services. The Agency's staff regularly engage with key stakeholders on the ground in Monaghan - including local authorities, public bodies, the education sector and companies from both its own client base and the indigenous sector - as part of efforts to generate new investment.

More broadly, the level of foreign direct investment in County Monaghan continues to improve. From 2017 to 2019, Monaghan reported a twofold increase in employment by IDA Ireland client companies with 168 net new jobs added during this period. I am confident that the new ATU in Knockaconny will stimulate further investment and job creation for the people of Monaghan and the wider Border region. 

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (596)

Norma Foley

Question:

596. Deputy Norma Foley asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when businesses such as gyms or personal training operations can resume; if open air exercise training for groups of four or less can operate from 18 May 2020 in outdoor spaces; the part of phase two which refers to small retail outlets; and if this phase includes personal training which can take place on a one to one basis by appointment only. [6268/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business sets out five stages for unlocking the restrictions put in place to contain the Coronavirus, at three week intervals. The Roadmap sets out how we can keep the level of transmission of COVID-19 as low as possible while balancing continuing restrictions in proportion with the positive social and economic benefits which will be brought about by businesses reopening.  It is important to note that all decisions taken by Government on the timing of any lifting of restrictions as envisaged in Phases 2 to 5 of the Roadmap will be guided by the public health advice at the time.

On 15th May the Government announced that we would move to Phase 1 of the Roadmap from Monday May 18th . This is in line with advice received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). The categories of workers, list of retailers and other facilities that can re-open under Phase 1 are available on the Government’s website gov.ie.  

Businesses should review the Roadmap carefully and carry out a detailed assessment of their activities with regard to the continuing public health measures.  Businesses should, based on their assessment, identify which category in which phase of reopening they will be in a position to reopen safely and in line with the continued public health measures.  It is not necessary for businesses to seek official authorisation to reopen.

The National Return to Work Safely Protocol is a useful guide for businesses in making their assessments and adapting their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures. It sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that they must take firstly before a workplace reopens, and then while it continues to operate.  

The Protocol is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Return-to-Work-Safely-Protocol.html  

The Health and Safety Authority, which is an agency of my Department, is the lead agency in overseeing compliance with the Protocol in the workplace.  If employers or employees need further guidance on the Protocol, the HSA Helpline can be contacted at 1890 289 389 or wcu@hsa.ie .  

In order to assist businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead. For a full list of supports for business please see https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/ .

On 8th May the Government agreed details of a further support which will give direct grant aid to micro and small businesses to help them with the costs associated with reopening and reemploying workers following COVID-19 closures. The Restart Grant will be available to businesses with a turnover of less than €5m and employing 50 people or less, which were closed or impacted by at least a 25% reduction in turnover out to 30th June 2020. It is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. The grants will be equivalent to the rates bill of the business in 2019, with a minimum payment of €2,000 and a maximum payment of €10,000.

I recognise the impact that this pandemic is having on businesses right across the country, I know that employers and employees want to get back to work and I support them in that ambition, but it must be safe to do so.  My Department contributed to the considerations around the phased re-opening of sectors and I will work within Government to secure further details and clarity for businesses as we progress through the phases outlined in the Roadmap.

A wide range of stakeholders including employers, unions and representative groups were consulted and their advice formed part of the considerations when drawing up the Roadmap. It is a living document and Government has the ability to flex the plans depending on the circumstances existing as we progress through each phase. It will be subject to regular review in the context of the progression or suppression of the disease in Ireland or new guidance or research that emerges from other sources.

Health and Safety Regulations

Questions (597)

Joan Collins

Question:

597. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the reason the public health workplace measures are guidelines and not mandatory (details supplied). [6279/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

As the Deputy will be aware, I launched the national “Return to Work Safely Protocol” Saturday, 9 May 2020.

The Protocol was drafted in close consultation with the social partners under the auspices of the Labour and Employer Economic Forum and agreed with them.

Under the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, the HSA has full powers to oversee compliance with the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in their place of work.  While COVID-19 is a public health issue, the infectious nature of the virus and the way in which it is easily transmitted through human contact, makes it a workplace health and safety issue as well as a general health matter.  Neither health, safety nor welfare are narrowly defined in the 2005 Act, so the HSA has all of the powers that it needs.

The Protocol is applicable to all industry sectors, setting minimum standards and is not designed to prohibit the introduction of further specific measures in particular sectors or workplaces, as long as they enhance the measures set out in the Protocol. The Protocol is a living document.

While there are clear public health measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Protocol is designed to translate these measures into a clear compliance framework designed for places of work.  This is to help businesses to reopen so that workers can feel safe returning to work.

Phase 1 of the reopening of the economy began on Monday last, the HSA  and other inspectors are out there advising and guiding employers on how to respect the Protocol.  Helping businesses to comply is the overall goal of the HSA.  However if, following an inspection, the inspector forms the opinion that further action is required, the appropriate action, up to and including the closure of a workplace, will be taken using the relevant powers. Where relevant, the public health authorities will be involved.

Health and Safety Authority

Questions (598)

Joan Collins

Question:

598. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of inspectors the HSA has to inspect workplaces to ensure they are compliant with Covid-19 public health measures; the number of additional inspectors which it will need to recruit in order to respond to inspections; if consideration has been given to bringing trade unions under the HSA regulation (details supplied); if not, the reason therefor; and if the proposal been discussed with the trade union movement. [6280/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

Compliance with the national Return to Work Safely Protocol is being led by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), who have overall responsibility for ensuring the health, safety and welfare at work of all workers.

The Protocol was drafted in close consultation with the social partners under the auspices of the Labour and Employer Economic Forum and agreed with them.

The HSA is deploying all its available inspectors across sectors to carry out both spot checks and other inspections to check compliance with the Protocol.  The HSA inspectorate will be supplemented significantly by deploying, under the authority of the HSA, other inspectors from across the system who already have an environmental health, agriculture or other workplace/business inspection responsibilities.  As we have seen with the general public health measures over the past two months, most people are complying with the rules. We can expect the same from employers and workers, most of who want to get back to work, and want the workplace to be safe, for them and for the families that they are returning to in the evenings.

I am expecting employers and workers, in line with what is set out in the Protocol, to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying the clear measures set out in the Protocol, for the health and safety of all concerned.

Even with the enhanced cohort of inspectors available to the HSA, they cannot be expected to go into every business in the country. That would be entirely unrealistic and unachievable. What they will do is a mix of unannounced inspections, along with providing advice and information through the HSAs Workplace Contact Unit email and phoneline  wcu@hsa.ie  and Tel: 1890 289 389.

Construction Regulations

Questions (599)

Joan Collins

Question:

599. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the consideration given to and the measures put in place in order to prevent construction workers outside the family unit traveling by cars and vans to their workplace when the construction sector returns to work on 18 May 2020 in view of the risk of contagion from Covid-19. [6282/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The national “Return to Work Safely Protocol” provides a clear compliance framework for all places of work to ensure that businesses can re-open and workers can return to work safely. The Protocol was drafted in close consultation with the social partners under the auspices of the Labour and Employer Economic Forum and agreed with them.

The Protocol is a detailed guide for employers and workers and sets out the mandatory minimum requirements that need to be in place to enable a workplace to open and to remain open. The Protocol states that workers should be encouraged to travel alone if using their personal cars for work or at a maximum be accompanied by one passenger who shall be seated in adherence with physical distancing guidance.

In addition, the construction sector has developed its own detailed COVID-19 return to work plan that captured many of the measures in the Protocol. I have been assured that the CIF operating procedure report has been amended to fully reflect the occupational health and safety actions required by the Return to Work Safely Protocol. I welcome the level of detail in the CIF operating procedure document which is specific to the construction sector and covers the use of vehicles in the sector.

My expectation is that employers and workers, in line with what is set out in the Protocol, to actively and jointly take responsibility for applying the clear measures set out in the Protocol to ensure the health and safety of all concerned is protected.

Health and Safety Authority

Questions (600)

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

600. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of inspectors employed by the Health and Safety Authority in each of the years 2016 to 2019 and to date in 2020; if additional inspectors will be hired in view of the Covid-19 pandemic; if the HSA will receive additional funding in 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6304/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The number of (wholetime equivalents) inspectors employed by the HSA in each of the years 2016 to end of April 2020 is as follows:

2016:                                 95.5

2017:                                 93.5

2018:                                103.5

2019:                                 99.0

2020 (end April):             104.5  

(Apart from 2020, the numbers shown were those employed at 31  December of the relevant year)

The Authority has a full staff complement of 182 which is made up of staff in administration and inspector grades. The inspector grades comprise of Grade 1s (senior inspectors) as well as GII and GIII inspectors. Inspectors operate across all our mandates – occupational health and safety, market surveillance of products and chemicals. They may also be involved in either general inspection, specialist inspection or policy implementation at national, European and international level.

The HSA inspectorate will be supplemented significantly by deploying, under the authority of the HSA, other inspectors from across the system who already have an environmental health, agriculture or other workplace/business inspection responsibilities. The HSA is deploying all its available inspectors on Covid19 inspections.

As we have seen with the general public health measures over the past two months, most people are complying with the rules. I expect the same from employers and workers, most of who want to get back to work, and want the workplace to be safe, for them and for the families that they are returning to in the evenings.

The HSA’s 2020 current Budget allocation is €20.502m which compromises pay, non-pay and pensions related funding.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (601)

Roderic O'Gorman

Question:

601. Deputy Roderic O'Gorman asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if small and medium companies supplying protective equipment to hospitals are deemed essential workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6334/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

Government advice provides that the manufacture of work-wear apparel or footwear and the manufacture of products necessary for the supply chain of essential services are deemed to be essential services. Further details are set out in  https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/dfeb8f-list-of-essential-service-providers-under-new-public-health-guidelin/#manufacturing Employers are requested to refer to this guidance to decide whether their organisation is providing an essential service; it is not necessary to seek official authorisation

The supply of protective equipment is a very important part of assisting our frontline staff in fighting the Coronavirus and we welcome the contribution all such companies are making in the production of such supplies.

Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement

Questions (602)

Robert Troy

Question:

602. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of staff in the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement in each of the years 2016 to 2019 and to date in 2020, by account, administrative staff, legal personnel and other staff in tabular form; the amount of funding allocated to the ODCE in each of the years 2016 to 2019; the allocation for 2019; the amount expended in each of the years 2016 to 2019 and to date in 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6346/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Business)

The reply is as follows:

No. of staff1 serving in the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) (2016-2020) 

GRADE 

2016 

2017 

2018 

2019 

2020 

Director 

Corporate Compliance Manager 

Legal Adviser 

Principal Solicitor 

Enforcement Portfolio Manager 

Enforcement Lawyer (PO) 

Digital Forensic Specialist 

Principal Officer 

Professional Accountant Grade 1 

Solicitor 

Assistant Principal Officer 

Higher Executive Officer 

Executive Officer 

Clerical Officer 

Total 

35 

35 

39 

36 

37 

Gardai 2 

1.  Refers to number of people not FTE’s (i.e. not Full Time Equivalents where 2 people working a week on, week off pattern would equal 1 FTE) 

2.  A staff complement of 7 Gardaí is assigned to the ODCE to assist with its criminal investigation / prosecution functions.  

 Table below sets out the allocations and outturn as requested:  

Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement:

REV   Allocations

Pay

  (€,000)

Non-Pay  

  (€,000)

Total  

  (€,000)

Outturn  

  (€,000)

2016

2,808

2,207

5,015

2,728

2017

2,838

2,057

4,895

3,014

2018

3,000

2,057

5,057

3,702

2019

3,740

2,317

6,057

4,300

2020

3,740

2,317

6,057

1,267*

*Provisional figure  

There are currently four vacancies in the ODCE, one Corporate Compliance Manager and three Forensic Accountants.  

In relation to the post of Corporate Compliance Manager, the current Director is considering this as part of a significant restructuring of the ODCE that he has undertaken to better reflect the organisation’s needs in the context of both its strategic shift towards deploying resources towards more serious indications of wrongdoing and the increasingly complex environment within which the ODCE operates.  

That restructuring has included the seeking of sanction for the recruitment of a substantial number of additional professional staff, and following receipt of sanction, the recruitment of eight accounting professionals (one of whom was promoted to Enforcement Portfolio Manager), two Enforcement Portfolio Managers and a Digital Forensics Specialist, together with significant investment in a digital forensics laboratory, training and development. The recruitment and assimilation of a large number of new professional staff into a multi-disciplinary organisation that undertakes complex work in a fast-moving environment is a project that requires careful management. As such, the Director is of the view that it is preferable to allow that process to fully bed down before filling the Corporate Compliance manager vacancy. The Director is further conscious of the fact that the transition of the ODCE to an independent Agency will give rise to additional expertise requirements and, as such, is of the view that it is prudent that those considerations should be factored into developing the role, and associated skill set, required of the appointee.  

My Office is actively engaging with PAS in relation to filling the Professional Accountant Grade 1 posts.