SIPTU General Secretary, Joe Cunningham has called on the Government to amend the ‘Employer COVID-19 Refund Scheme’, widening its scope and ensuring that workers and employers are given the support they need. Joe Cunningham said today (Friday, 20th March) that the scheme, which provides a weekly €203 in respect of laid off workers prohibits employers from providing additional support, or top-ups.  It further excludes hundreds of thousands of workers who are currently in employment but whose jobs are at risk.   He said: “SIPTU recognises that the Government has been forced to respond quickly to a growing crisis affecting workers and their families across the country.  However, the statement yesterday by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DESP) that employers who temporarily laid staff off and paid them above the refund scheme rate will not qualify for the COVID-19 payment undermines the real value of the scheme to workers. We believe that three simple changes would ensure that the COVID-19 Refund Scheme acts as a real ‘solidarity buffer’ for workers. “Firstly, the scheme must be available to both workers who have been laid off and those currently in employments but are at risk of losing their jobs due to COVID-19.  There should be no distinction between those who have been laid off due to the pandemic and those who are at risk of being laid off. “Secondly, employers who want to top up the €203 weekly payment must be able to do so without being excluded from the scheme.  Good employers must be rewarded and not penalised in this emergency. “Thirdly, the State, in addition to paying €203 per week for employees, should provide an additional top-up to 75 percent of their current current wage (for those in work or laid off), leaving the employer to pay the balance of 25 percent.  This would provide security for workers and significantly reduce employer costs during this emergency. “The current scheme should be transformed into a comprehensive wage compensation programme.  SIPTU believes that a ‘solidarity buffer’ along these lines would alleviate the current hardship for our members, provide support to businesses and facilitate both economic and social recovery when we emerge from this crisis.”