SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton has complained that one in six of people of working age are getting an illness or disability payment at a cost of over €3bn per year.
She said that the figures were “staggering” and “pretty incredible” – as she defended her plans to get employers to contribute more to the sick pay bill.
Ms Burton said that there were now 300,000 people in total receiving either illness benefit or disability allowance – which represents 16 per cent of the working age population. And she said that this number had increased by 100,000 people over the past decade when the country was at the most prosperous point in its history.
“How did Fianna Fail manage to put an extra 100,000 people on some sort of illness or disability payment? Because these are staggering figures,” she said.
She was speaking in the Dail as Fianna Fail brought a motion calling on her to halt her “job-destroying statutory sick pay scheme”. Currently, the state pays the cost of sick leave for workers who are absent for more than three days. But Ms Burton is now planning to get employers to cover the cost of up to month’s sick leave taken by their workers to save up to €89m from the annual €847m illness bill. She told the Dail that Ireland required employers to contribute far less to sick pay than in other European countries.
Fianna Fail enterprise spokesman Dara Calleary said his party was going to warn businesses about this new “Burton Burden”.
“This new cost burden will be seen as a tax on jobs and will have most effect on smaller, more vulnerable employers, operating in low-margin businesses,” he said.
Mr Calleary said that even a member of Ms Burton’s own party, Labour Senator John Whelan, had warned that her changes could push many small and medium enterprises "over the edge".
Ms Burton had to withdraw her plan to change the sick pay system before last year’s Budget after strong opposition from Jobs Minister Richard Bruton. Several Fine Gael TDs have again warned that it will lead to increased costs for businesses and job losses.
Junior Minister for Small Business John Perry said that the proposed sick pay changes were the subject of a consultation process.
“This is a very complex issue which involves a ‘whole of Government discussion’. No formal proposals have been brought to Government,” he said.