Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald says the temporary wage subsidy scheme has to be fixed 'very quickly' to ensure women returning from maternity leave are eligible.
The scheme involves the Government subsidising wages for companies that have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, with the State paying up to 85% of employees' wages if they're kept on payroll.
However, it emerged last month that an “irregularity” was preventing companies from accessing the scheme for women returning from maternity leave.
The Department of Finance says that although an employer may not be able to claim the subsidy for a person who wasn't on the payroll on February 29th, the usual legal obligations on employers continue to apply during the crisis.
Speaking on On The Record this morning, the Sinn Féin leader suggested the department was engaging in 'rhetoric' and that changes already made to the scheme - in particular the increase of the subsidy rate from 70% of pay to 85% - show that it can be altered.
Deputy McDonald explained: “There is a set of women who are excluded from this payment because of their maternity leave, and it is unfair. It’s arguably discriminatory to put these new mothers in this position.
“The Government seems to be suggesting they can’t actually fix this anomaly, but I don’t believe that is the case.
“This needs to get fixed, and I know that for women in this situation… to be excluded in this way is just for many people the last straw.
“The good news is it can be fixed, and I’m urging the minister and the Government to move very quickly on this."
She said the scheme was introduced in the context of the economy being 'put to sleep' temporarily, and that needs to account for all circumstances.
The Dublin Central TD said that while the measures were understandably put through quickly given the urgency of events, it's important to fix issues such as this one quickly once they arise.
More broadly, Deputy McDonald said it's important the various pandemic subsidy schemes and unemployment payments continue while people are out of work due to the crisis.
She observed: "I think we need to understand that at a time when enterprises have been closed down, the government’s own exit plan signals many people will not expect to be back in work until August, into September.
"We believe [the payments] will have to continue certainly at least until the end of this year, and of course then they will have to be reviewed."
She added that the State cannot tell business they can't open their doors without having support measures in place that are consistent with that.