News that the long-awaited Covid-19 vaccine would be rolled out was undoubtedly a positive development and a bright ray of light in a dark year during which the pandemic left more than 200 victims while almost grinding the economy to a halt.  

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that workers, even those who did not lose their jobs, did not feel the pinch or that the economic storm caused by this pandemic is over.

Though unemployment has not soared, employees of around 200 companies are still working with reduced employment conditions. For these workers, the standard of living took a nosedive. The worst hit are those whose monthly income has declined by hundreds of euros and have been eating into their savings in order to make ends meet. Worryingly, the coffers of some of these workers have gone bone dry and unless their situation improves anytime soon, they could be on the brink of poverty.

Tourism, aviation, leisure and the performing arts were the worst-hit economic sectors as the activity has all but grounded to a complete halt. The wage supplement measure which was rolled out in consultation with the social partners, was arguably one of the main reasons why unemployment remained under control. Under this scheme the Government forks out €900 per month with the employer paying the rest of the salary depending on the company’s finances. When the scheme was launched, assurances were given that employers would not be allowed to profit from the situation and that the necessary checks would be carried out to verify claims that an employer was not in a position to make any payments at all.  

According to the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations to date there have been 1,000 companies which at some time, were been given permission for a temporary reduction in the conditions of workers to avoid redundancies. This number currently stands at 200 companies while in total more than 25,000 workers have been affected to date.

Unfortunately, a significant number still must rely on just €900 a month, with no top-up from their employer. Though there have been genuine cases of private entities not being able to absorb such a blow such as establishments which had to close down for months, there have been circumstances where questions were raised.

The wage supplement scheme should not be a smokescreen for employers to take austerity measures to balance the books following bad management which has nothing to do with the pandemic. If sacrifices are to be made, the burden should not be borne by the most vulnerable, while those who have been on the gravy train for years barely lift a finger. Nor is it right to put workers with their backs against the wall by threatening that if they do not accept the pay cuts, they would risk losing their job, while keeping them in the dark over the company’s finances and the reasons which drove it to the brink of bankruptcy.

The wage supplement scheme should not serve as a bail out or a means of balancing books under the guise of a pandemic. UHM Voice of the Workers calls on the Government to be vigilant on those companies where the workers are still with reduced conditions to ensure these are not unnecessarily prolonged. It is only when no worker is left on this scheme that one would be entitled to declare that we are on the road to normality.