THE Government should scrap the PUP scheme for people who are using it to get out of returning to work, a leading restaurateur has claimed.
Mike Ryan who runs five restaurants in Cork and Limerick says the industry is struggling to attract the likes of students who would have done a few shifts before the pandemic but have been picking up €350 a week since.
Coupled with the loss of experienced senior staff to other industries, it has left many businesses in peril.
He told the Irish Sun: “A short fix to incentivise people to go back to work, the ones that can go back to work, would be an immediate cutting of PUP payment once it’s done to people who are only using it to stay away from work.”
But both Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Labour leader Alan Kelly have rejected those calls, the Fine Gael leader insisting restaurants will just have to “pay a little bit better than they did in the past.”
Recent figures show that employers have reported about 3,000 workers to the Department of Social Protection for refusing to return to work because they want to remain on the PUP.
Employers have been reporting such employees to the Department and officials will follow up with the workers.
Some 285,000 people received the PUP this week – a drop of more than 24,000 on the previous week as thousands of people returned to work in the hospitality sector that reopened for outdoor business on Monday.
LOSS OF STAFF IS A BIG PROBLEM
Restaurateur Ryan has about 120 staff working in his five Munster businesses now compared to 190 before Covid and the loss of more casual staff is a huge problem for him.
The man behind the Cornstore in Cork says he is having trouble getting seasonal workers like students in his restaurants again because of the PUP.
He explained: “A huge factor for seasonal places in the PUP payment. That has disincentivized a certain group of people that might be predominantly younger, the lower paid of the industry, the ones on a trainee rate.
“That usually gave students funds to go through college, but the problem is a lot of them are now getting paid 3-350 euro through the whole time, fair play to them, I never got money like that in college.
“The only way to make it work is continue the PUP payment for the big cohort that still can’t open. Entertainment, premises without outdoor spaces, some places that legitimately can’t take staff back.”
BUSINESS SUPPORTS STILL KEY
He continued: “We opened yesterday (Monday), in all premises, fantastic day. Cork and Limerick, beautiful weather, people in great form, staff buzzing.
“And this morning it’s lashing rain! So we’re at very limited capacity for the day. That’s why businesses will still need supports.
“A rainy day is like lockdown. For outside dining we’re at 25 per cent so we’re only open because of Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme. That’s crucial.
“Our businesses are not viable now the way we’re operating. The EWSS is allowing us to get those people back to work and we are looking for more, at least another 20-30 people and when I find the right people I can bring them on board.
“But it’s not because we can afford to do so, it’s only cos of EWSS.
“PUP payment has to be reduced and there has to be a way of ensuring legitimate people do not suffer – people trying to pay mortgages who cannot get back to work.
“We all know the €300 (where they were doing one shift) is a bit of madness but the people who were making 800 euro a week and trying to live on 350 since that’s where the discrepancy was.
“You had someone doing two shifts a week getting the same as someone who was working on a general manager’s wage on 50k a year.
“Supports in place for businesses to bring people back keep them off the live register and keep the industry alive. But the PUP payment is stopping some people from making that decision.”
PAY THEM MORE
Mr Ryan said he has lost a lot of good workers to other industries or because they have decided to move home to other countries.
Tanaiste Varadkar told the Irish Sun that several employers and employer organisations have contacted him about the issue of staff not returning to work because of the PUP.
However, the Business Minister believes the problem is being overstated and claims companies will simply have to pay workers more to get them back.
He said: “When you do drill down to it a little bit more, there are a lot of people who worked in different sectors who are no longer in the country. They’ve often gone back home to central or eastern Europe in general and other parts of the world.
“There are others who just quite frankly found jobs in other sectors. I do think this is one thing that employers may have to consider that perhaps in order to get employees back they may have to pay a little bit better than they did in the past.
“I know that will be difficult for some but that’s why we’re helping them out with the wage subsidy scheme, with the commercial rates holiday, with the VAT reduction.”
Labour leader Alan Kelly refutes claims that workers are not returning to jobs because of the PUP and said industries will have to improve pay and conditions if they want to get staff back.
STUDENTS HAVE GONE THROUGH ENOUGH
He told the Irish Sun: “The question to ask those restaurant owners who want to get rid of the PUP is what rate of pay, what conditions and what working environment are they presenting to workers?
“In fact I’ve had two restaurant owners on to me at various different times repudiating these stories and saying it’s a minority because they actually think it’s a misrepresentation of their industry and they don’t like it because they are very respectful of their workers and very protective of them.
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“In fact, I had one restaurant owner on to me who absolutely retained all his staff more of less bar one or two who moved on, but more or less all of them came back and the reason why is because he’s a very good employer.”
Pressed on the issue of seasonal workers such as students remaining on the PUP instead of returning to work, the Labour leader said: “I don’t see that as an issue at all.
“In fact, I believe that students have gone through an awful lot during this pandemic and to make comments like that is very disrespectful to them.”