Meat factory workers ‘entitled to Covid-19 illness payment’ but must have PPSN and PRSI contributions

Following concerns raised by trade union SIPTU over sick pay for workers in meat factories in Ireland, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has said that, under its department, all workers are entitled to claim the Covid-19 Illness Benefit payment, irrelevant as to whether a company has a sick pay scheme or not.

However, to be eligible for payments workers need to have a Personal Public Service Number (PPSN) and make Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) contributions.

In response to queries by AgriLand, the department stated that all employees (other than some public sector employees who pay a modified rate of social insurance) including self-employed people, non-nationals and those living in Direct Provision centres are entitled to the special Illness Benefit payment.

SIPTU said recently that 95% of workers in the meat industry in Ireland do not have a sick pay scheme and that the importance of this is that “workers who may have a slight cough, or a bit of a fever or sore throat, cannot afford not to go to work unless they’re really ill”.

SIPTU said yesterday, Monday, August 10, that it gave representatives from Meat Industry Ireland (MII) a copy of the SIPTU charter on Covid-19 within the meat industry, which includes issues involving pay; sick pay; terms and conditions; and payment for workers who are out of work because of Covid-19.

When asked about these issues, and if there is a way to activate payments without a PPSN, a spokesperson for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said:

“It is expected that anyone living and working in Ireland has a PPSN and is making PRSI contributions.

A company sick pay scheme is not compulsory; it should be seen in the context of the contract of employment between employer and employee. It is a separate matter from the state safety-net of Illness Benefit funded through PRSI.

“Employees who are non-nationals and employees who live in Direct Provision also have access if temporarily laid-off without pay due to Covid-19 to claim the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. This payment is paid with effect from when they were temporarily laid-off.”

When asked how the department is communicating with workers on how they can avail of financial supports, it stated:

“On foot of the measures announced on Friday, August 7, affecting residents in Kildare, Laois and Offaly, the department is running an advertising campaign through a range of media channels (national and local) to remind workers that the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is available to them.

“The department is currently translating information on the supports into the most frequent languages spoken by workers who are non-nationals.”

In order to activate and receive payments, the department said a worker must:
  • Be diagnosed with a Covid-19 infection as certified by a registered medical practitioner or be certified by a registered medical practitioner to self-isolate;
  • Be aged between 18 and 66 years;
  • Be employed or self-employed and have worked in the four weeks preceding their ‘declared certified from date’;
  • Have a contract of employment (if an employee);
  • Have at least one paid qualifying social insurance contribution in the four weeks immediately before claiming the payment.