ISME slams plan to survey 20,000 self-employed
Plans to survey 20,000 self-employed workers on whether they would be willing to pay more PRSI in return for access to more benefits have been described as "rubbish" and "crazy".
Small business representatives have hit out at Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar for launching the study without putting any firm options on the table.
The minister is to write to farmers, builders, doctors and other sole traders in the coming weeks to gauge opinion on his vision for a reformed social insurance fund.
He wants to move to a European model, whereby the country's 325,000 self-employed workers will be entitled to State support in the event of long-term illness, work-related injures or the closure of their business.
The vast majority of sole traders are currently charged Pay-Related Social Insurance (PRSI) at a rate of 4pc - but they receive only very limited benefits, apart from a contributory state pension on retirement.
However, Mark Fielding of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise (ISME) body criticised the new study, saying it was the job of the Department of Social Protection to come up with firm proposals.
He said the department should be informing workers of the range of benefits available and outlining the costs associated.
"They have the figures so it should be done first and then sent out," he said, describing the questionnaire as "rubbish".
"This is summer and I think they have gone a little bit crazy in the department sending out things like this," he said.
The Irish Farmers' Association, which recently met with Mr Varadkar on this issue, was more positive about the minister's approach.
Farm business chairman Martin Stapleton welcomed the consultation initiative, telling the Irish Independent it is important that the minister is taking into account the balance between benefits and contribution.
However, Fianna Fáil's Social Protection spokesman Willie O'Dea described the survey as "complete propaganda".
The Limerick TD said he was "dumbfounded" by the approach, saying he has spent four years seeking reform in the area.
"Now suddenly Leo Varadkar is a convert to it - but I wonder how much of a convert he really is.
"I drafted a bill that would have allowed the self-employed to make voluntary contributions. Leo said he'd have an options paper ready before the Dáil recess - but I haven't seen it."