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Rewards Frontline staff may be given €500 voucher with remote workers set for Budget break

However, a four-day ‘Super Bank Holiday Weekend’ has been ruled out

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Paschal Donohoe

Paschal Donohoe

Paschal Donohoe

A tax-free voucher for up to €500, along with an extra Bank Holiday, is now on the table as a reward for frontline workers’ efforts during the pandemic.

Teachers are the latest groups to demand a payout from the pandemic bonus.

But the Government is worried the increasingly divisive reward will end up causing a backlash.

The Coalition is concerned who is included will risk a repeat of the prioritisation of healthcare staff for vaccines earlier this year, after gardaí and teachers had to wait their turn.

An extra bank holiday this year to mark the efforts of frontline staff now seems certain. A Fáilte Ireland analysis has revealed this could generate more than €20m for the economy due to tourism.

A so-called ‘Super Bank Holiday Weekend’ with a Friday and Monday off was mooted as well, but is now being ruled out as an option.

An additional bonus payment or paid leave is also being considered. The latest iteration is a voucher worth anything from €250 to €500. Tax credits or a straight-up bonus payment are also on the table.

However, a cash payment on top of existing wages would be subject to income tax, PRSI and USC so workers would immediately lose a chunk of the benefit.

Businesses can reward their staff with a voucher up to €500 once per year completely free of tax, PRSI and USC through the Small Benefit Exemption scheme, so the Government could avail of a similar mechanism.

While private and public sector workers alike would benefit from an official bank holiday in November or December, only frontline public workers would receive a financial bonus.

However, the big difficulty is around deciding who is entitled to the payment and how many workers that would involve.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath met again last night to discuss the plan.

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The bonus is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, but before the Budget in a fortnight. The cost of the bonus has yet to be determined as it will depend on the number of workers involved.

Mr McGrath sought to play down expectations. He cautioned that 10 days of paid leave across the public sector would cost “well over half a billion”.

“We have to avoid a divisive approach across our society, while at the same time, finding an appropriate way to recognise the outstanding work that so many people did over the last 18 months,” he said.

It comes as teachers are demanding a seat at talks on a pandemic bonus for frontline workers in recognition of their “extraordinary efforts” in crowded classrooms.

The three teaching unions, the ASTI, INTO and TUI are the latest to demand they join discussions with government officials after healthworker unions lodged a formal claim for an acknowledgement of their efforts.

Earlier this week, unions for rank and file gardaí, sergeants and inspectors said they also want a dividend for their dedication to duty during the
pandemic.

Teacher unions are now saying they expect to be included in any discussions around the acknowledgement of workers’ contributions during the pandemic.

“Teachers’ extraordinary efforts – both face-to-face with their pupils in crowded classrooms and in the online learning space – have allowed schools to continue to prioritise teaching and learning while meeting children and young people’s needs,” the teacher unions said in a joint statement.

Health unions sought 10 days’ leave in a formal claim lodged with the HSE, according to a Labour Court recommendation.

The unions have since denied that their demand is prescriptive and sources said it could include an extra payment combined with leave.

Spokesperson for the health unions, Tony Fitzpatrick, has warned that a bank holiday would not be enough for them.

In a recent letter to HSE national director of human resources, Anne Marie Hoey, on behalf of the INMO, Siptu, Fórsa, IMO, MLSA, Connect, craft unions and Unite, he calls for talks at the “earliest opportunity”.

Meanwhile, a wage subsidy scheme that has propped up pay in the childcare sector during the pandemic will be extended until the end of next month.

The business group representing the early years sector, Childhood Services Ireland, welcomed the announcement by Mr Donohoe.

“We are happy to see that the scheme will be extended for October which will give certainty to parents and providers in the coming weeks,” Childhood Services Ireland director Darragh Whelan said.

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