Maternity leave exclusion from subsidy scheme to be resolved, vows minister

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has vowed to act to ensure mothers returning from maternity leave “are treated fairly” under the wage subsidy scheme.

The Covid-19 Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) pays up to €410 per week to an employee of a business that has lost more than 25% of its turnover, on the condition that employers keep those workers on their books.

However, due to an anomaly, women who are returning from unpaid maternity leave and were not on their company’s payroll in January and February are unable to access the subsidy.

Mr Donohoe said he will bring a proposal to Cabinet tomorrow to resolve the anomaly.

He told the Dáil he has been working with the Revenue Commissioners to ensure everyone is treated equally.

He said: “It has absolutely been my intention to ensure all were treated equally with the wage subsidy scheme. I do want to ensure that those who were on maternity leave and are on maternity leave and want to come back to work are treated equally.

“There were difficulties presented because of how the legislation was drafted and the issue has been raised by deputies over the past few weeks.

“I believe we have now found a way to ensure mothers who were on a maternity leave scheme and who are coming back to work can be treated equally to anyone who is on the temporary wage subsidy scheme.”

Earlier, the HSE said it is not clear if an effective vaccine against Covid-19 will be found.

Speaking at the body’s weekly briefing today, chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry played down hopes of an effective vaccine being available this year.

He said: “We’re in an environment where there is no evidence and we are relying on the principals of infection control.

“This is a very transmissible virus. We have nothing to draw on other than what other countries are trying to do.

“Bear in mind that when HIV first came out a huge amount of investment was put into developing a vaccine which did not materialise, but a treatment did.

“There is no guarantee an effective vaccine which fulfils all the criteria of conferring immunity, being safe and being manufactured at a mass scale for a population… there is no guarantee that will happen.”

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said that as of this morning, the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care is 48, with an additional 12 suspected cases.

He said the figure is down 70% from the peak in the number of ICU cases on April 9.

Mr Reid also said that oversight of the private nursing home sector is something that needs to be looked at.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>HSE chief Paul Reid said 48 Covid patients are currently in intensive care (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)</figcaption>
HSE chief Paul Reid said 48 Covid patients are currently in intensive care (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

He said: “My own reflections are there are obvious gaps in clarity regarding the responsibility and overall governance of private nursing homes in particular.

“I think any reflection at this point in time can say it is something to be looked at and is a consideration for policymakers and the HSE.

“Residents in these locations are often frail and vulnerable, and I will continuously ensure the HSE are wide open to any learnings that emerge over the next while as we are still very much living with this virus.”

Mr Reid acknowledged the target of having 90% of tests for Covid-19 turned around in three days has not been met and it is currently at 83%.

He said: “We are obviously dealing with much more complex cases now, they can take longer or mental health areas or homeless facilities. They are more complex facilities so tests will take longer.”

The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,631 on Wednesday after a further 17 deaths were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team.

There were 73 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed, taking the total since the outbreak began to 24,803.