I propose to take Questions Nos. 45, 64, 97, 120 and 129 together.
The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) is a temporary emergency measure to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy, intended to maximise staff retention and firm viability by maintaining the link between the employer and employee insofar as is possible through this truly exceptional period. In that regard it is noted that as of 14 May, over 54,100 employers and over 464,400 employees have thus far benefited from the measure.
It ultimately gives a sum to employers to cover a portion of their wage bill in circumstances where the employer’s business has been negatively impacted by the restrictions that have had to be introduced to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The sum the employer receives is based on the employees who were on their payroll on 29 February 2020, the net salary such employees received in January and February 2020, as well as the extent to which the employer remains able to continue to discharge their legal obligation to pay their employees’ salaries.
The TWSS is built upon historic PAYE returns made to Revenue. One of the core principles of the scheme that is necessary to prevent abuse is the requirement that the employees for which a claim is submitted must be on the payroll of the employer as at 29 February 2020. Thus, where an individual commenced a new employment after 29 February 2020, or returned to the payroll of his or her employer after that date following a period of unpaid leave, whether maternity related or otherwise, that salary cannot be included in the calculation of the sum that is available to the employer under the TWSS.
The 29 February payroll decision has consequences for many groups, however, the scheme is being administered in a manner that is fully compliant with all relevant legislation and no discriminatory treatment of workers arises.
Further, the position in relation to the TWSS does not affect any legal obligations that the employer may have to their employee as regards any terms, conditions or entitlements of their employment, including pay. The question of an individual’s employment entitlements following their resumption of work after a period of leave, and the question of what wages an employer may or may not be in a position to pay such an employee are matters between the employee and the employer – and the entire period of pregnancy and maternity leave is a special protected period under the law.
It is understood that although the employer may not be able to claim the TWSS for a person who has not been on the payroll on 29 February but is entitled to return to work after this date, they remain obliged to honour their obligations as an employer as the full suite of employment rights legislation continues to apply in relation to all employees and their employers for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
As regards the operation of the TWSS, I am aware of the matter that has been raised by the Deputies and have instructed officials to re-examine whether such workers may be accommodated at this time within the scheme.