By Cate McCurry, PA
People who cannot return to their jobs if the next easing of Covid restrictions is delayed have been told there are opportunities to work in restaurants and elsewhere.
Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, said there is a shortage of labour in some areas, including the hospitality sector.
The Minister made the comments after she was asked whether there are contingency plans in place to protect workers who may be impacted by a decision to delay plans to remove most remaining restrictions next week.
A recent rise in the number of Covid-19 cases and an increase in the number of people in hospital and ICU has caused concern among health officials and the Government ahead of next Friday.
The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was reduced last month and will be tapered off in line with the jobseeker’s payment.
Getting people back to work
There are about 100,000 people claiming the PUP, with the number expected to dramatically fall with the removal of restrictions.
Asked what plans are in place to protect workers, Ms Humphreys said social welfare benefits are there to support people who lose their jobs.
“Like anybody else in any other sector since last July, they will be able to go on to the jobseeker's (allowance) and that’s there to support people who lose their jobs,” Ms Humphreys said.
“That’s what’s available to people. Whenever you lose your job, we have the jobseeker’s payment, it’s there to support people. But we’re also putting a huge focus on getting people back to work.
“You look at pathways to work, we’re helping people to reskill, to upskill, and to find new jobs in new sectors.
“You only have to look at, in terms of the demands for working at the minute, there are job notices when you go into restaurants in many different places, people are looking for workers.
“There are opportunities out there. There is a shortage of labour in the market at the minute, so we want to help people who don’t get their job back, their original job back, we want to help them to find new jobs.”
Ms Humphreys said that a decision on whether to proceed with the reopening plans next week will be made next Tuesday following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
The Fine Gael Minister said the rising case numbers are “concerning” and that things are “not as positive” as the Government would have liked.
“We still need to look at a few more days of data and the Government will decide on Tuesday what actions to take,” Ms Humphreys said on Friday.
“I don’t want to speculate because it’s not helpful. I know that businesses want certainty and they will get that on Tuesday.
“The situation we are in now is not comparable to where we were last January. We have to remember 90 per cent of our population has been vaccinated, that’s very positive.
“I do know that there is a section of the population, I think it’s around 300,000, that haven’t been vaccinated.
“I would appeal to those people to please take up that vaccination because, as I understand it, two thirds of those in the intensive care units have not been vaccinated. I think that’s something that we would ask them to consider doing.”
Earlier this week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that not all restaurants or bars are enforcing the Covid certificate requirements.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris ruled out any role of gardaí in enforcing the laws around indoor dining.
“I don’t particularly think it’s appropriate that we go into premises and check Covid certificates, I think that’s more regulatory responsibility as opposed to a police and law enforcement responsibility,” Mr Harris said.
“We’re obviously engaged with licensed premises, we police the night-time economy. If premises require assistance, we’d be there to help them.
“I don’t think we have a core role in the examination of an individual’s certificate.”
Meanwhile, the chief executive of the HSE has said that a rise in Covid-19 cases is not a reason to hit “the panic button”.
Paul Reid said it was an early warning that people need to follow the health regulations.