Women will be the ‘collateral damage’ of Covid-19 crisis, warns employment expert

New mums hit hardest as they don't qualify for wage subsidy

Additional reporting by Juno McEnroe

Women will be the "collateral damage" of the Covid-19 crisis with new mums among the hardest hit, an employment expert has warned.

While problems around maternity rights are already “endemic” in Ireland, women are now being “abandoned in their droves” by both employers and government, according to Richard Grogan, employment law specialist and solicitor.

His practice has seen a huge increase in calls from women on maternity leave who are not being taken back to work due to the coronavirus crisis.

And Mr Grogan says one major problem is that the Government's temporary wage subsidy scheme is not available to those who were on maternity leave when it was introduced.

And although politicians could promise employers that the legislation will be amended and backdated to include women on maternity leave as soon as there is a new Government, Mr Grogan said, this has not been done.

“The Government is effectively abandoning women and children, sending them out in a boat and casting them aside,” Mr Grogan said.

An awful lot of women are going to be gotten rid of.

“If you were not on the payroll on February 29, you will not get it [the temporary wage subsidy scheme]. So there are women who returned to work in March and April and May who will not get the temporary wage subsidy.

"It’s an appalling anomaly for women."

He said a further crisis looms when closed childcare facilities and schools lead to countless more women losing their jobs when they cannot return to work, with the burden of childcare still mostly falling on mothers.

And if an employee cannot give a definite date when they can return to work, an employer is entitled under employment law to terminate their contract.

Mr Grogan also warned that anyone taking a case when their maternity rights are not honoured should challenge them under the Employment Equality Acts not the Unfair Dismissal Act as the latter can only direct compensation for lack of earnings, while the other can also award payments for emotional distress, breaching a fundamental right and to "dissuade" employers from ever repeating those actions.

Louisa Meehan, President of women's business group Network Ireland, echoes Mr Grogan's calls for an urgent amendment to legislation so that women on maternity leave can be better protected.

“Richard’s description of women as ‘collateral damage’ is truly stark but should serve as a wake-up call to the government of the damage that could be done.

"This Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme legislation must be amended to include these vital members of Ireland’s workforce”.

Meanwhile, a new low of 107 virus cases has been notified to health officials.

However, another 24 people have died from the disease. The figures bring to 23,242 the number of confirmed cases while the overall death toll is now 1,488.

Health bosses say they have the capacity to test up to 15,000 people a day for the virus, but there are still delays of five days or more in places getting results. This is down to “complex cases”, said Dr Cillian De Gascun, a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team.

There were communication problems, missing phone numbers, no unique patient numbers and issues with computer systems, he said. Officials hope to reduce delays to two days.

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan confirmed he had talked with his counterpart in the North over differences in tracking the disease. He said he echoed calls for one all-island system to fight the virus.

He said he was "hopeful" restrictions could be eased next week and the overall new numbers of cases in the weeks ahead would fall to low double-digit figures.

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