Thursday 8 December 2016

Ministers battle over €900m bill for sick pay

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

Published 20/02/2012 | 05:00

SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton is set to go into battle with Jobs Minister Richard Bruton again as she attempts to get employers to contribute towards the sick-pay bill of almost €900m.

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She is bringing international experts to Dublin today to bolster her case that Ireland is unique among developed countries in exempting employers from the costs.

The State picks up the bill for employees on sick leave after the first three days -- and the cost of illness benefit was €876m last year.

But Mr Bruton is still opposed to any measure which will increase the costs on employers at a time when the State is relying on them more than ever to create jobs.

He successfully resisted her plan in last December's Budget to have employers pay for four weeks of sick pay for an employee -- which would cut €150m per year from her department's spend.

Ms Burton has invited officials from Mr Bruton's department to today's seminar, which will include experts from Britain and the OECD think tank.

Her case is that a new system of sharing the cost would provide an incentive on employers to reduce sick leave -- and that includes public-sector employers like the HSE, where 5,000 staff call in sick every day at a cost of €284m per year.

A spokeswoman for Ms Burton said the aim of the seminar was to share international best practice on the issue. In Britain, employers have to pay sick pay for up to 28 weeks, while in the Netherlands it is two years.

Insurance

The sick-pay bill is paid for by the social insurance fund -- which has a deficit of €1.5bn due to the huge rise in unemployment and redundancy payments.

Ms Burton is arguing for changes to the sick-pay scheme to plug the hole rather than pursing the two other main alternatives.

These are raising the level of PRSI contributions made by workers, or cutting the size of the payments made by the fund -- which include jobseekers' benefit, maternity pay and the state contributory pension.

Irish Independent

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