Cost of pandemic bonus could reach €1 billion, says Michael McGrath

ireland
Cost Of Pandemic Bonus Could Reach €1 Billion, Says Michael Mcgrath
A Labour Court recommendation on Wednesday said the Health Service Executive had estimated that a claim for 10 days’ additional leave by unions for healthcare workers could cost at least €377 million. Photo: PA Media
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Digital Desk Staff

Updated at 13:48

The cost of extra pay or leave across the public sector as a reward for service during the pandemic could top €1 billion, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath has warned.

As The Irish Times reports, he said there was a “very significant cost” associated with the claim lodged at the Labour Court by the INMO and the other health worker unions for 10 days leave across the health services.

Mr McGrath said on Thursday that would be a minimum cost of €377 million.

Sources in the Department of Finance and Department of Public Expenditure believe that, if met in full, the requests for special payments or leave could take up a huge proportion of the cash available on budget day.

Mr McGrath told the Dáil: “Given that you would almost certainly have to involve a level of overtime and agency staff to provide the necessary cover the costs would almost certainly exceed €500 million.

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“And if you were to provide the same 10 days leave across the full public service the cost would exceed €1 billion”, he said during Dáil question time on Thursday.

Additional leave

As reported earlier, a Labour Court recommendation on Wednesday said the Health Service Executive had estimated that a claim for 10 days’ additional leave by unions for healthcare workers could cost at least €377 million.

There are concerns among Government officials that other groups of State employees including some civil servants and gardaí may also look for similar benefits.

Workers at Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Bus Éireann – part of the State-owned CIÉ group – who are represented by the National Bus and Rail Union have also sought 10 additional days leave for “donning the green jersey” and keeping buses and trains operational during the pandemic.

The broader public service trade union movement has not lodged any claims.

In their submission to the Labour Court, the health unions said workers’ expectations had been raised by comments by Ministers.

Compensation claims

The submission included a quote from Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who said the Government would give active consideration to compensation claims. It also pointed to a comment by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly who said: “I want to see something done. Yeah, absolutely, I really do.”

On Tuesday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil it was his “strong view” that bonus payments or extra leave should not be limited to frontline workers in the health service.

“I have seen the enormous work done by civil servants in the Department of Social Protection making sure people got their pandemic unemployment payment . . . quickly.

"I know of the work staff in Revenue did make sure businesses got their employment wage subsidy scheme payments and staff in my department did make sure businesses got the assistance they needed.

“Too often, we make this distinction between frontline workers and non-frontline workers, which does not fully appreciate that there is nothing you can do as a frontline worker if it were not for all of the people behind you,” Mr Varadkar said.

Some at the Department of Finance and Department of Public Expenditure believe that, if met in full, the requests for special payments or leave could take up a huge proportion of the cash available on budget day.

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