The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has urged the Government not to reduce the Pandemic Unemployment Payment for out-of-work workers in sectors that are not yet operational.

In a letter sent to the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, ahead of the announcement of the next reopening plan, ICTU General Secretary Patricia King argued that the prevailing circumstances continue to be outside such workers’ control.

The three top rates of the PUP are due to be cut by €50 next month as part of Government plans to begin winding down the emergency welfare payment before the spring of next year.

Congress has also asked the Government to consider introducing ongoing advice to employers on the operation of a blended model that would see employees working partly from home and partly in the workplace, on a voluntary basis, for the coming months.

Ms King said there are many positive aspects to such an approach and the voluntary approach is necessary because promised legislation on the issue may not be put in place for some time.

“This we believe would assist those workers who will need to readjust their care arrangements etc, it will also reduce the pressure on public transport facilities and furthermore will contribute positively to the compliance with social distancing and ventilation measures… which no doubt will be required while this virus continues to be active,” Ms King wrote.

The ICTU boss also told the political leaders that there are concerns among ICTU member unions around the issue of travel to and from work, particularly when it comes to possible crowding and social distancing challenges on public transport services.

“We would respectively suggest that some consideration be given to the provision of Government guidance relating to staggered work arrangements being put in place particularly in the early phase of this return,” Ms King said.

On the topic of vaccination of workers against Covid-19, ICTU said there are cohorts of workers who are unvaccinated, but it agrees with the Government’s non-mandatory approach to the issue due to strong constitutional, legal and human rights reasons underpinning it.

“While some workplace conflict can be expected on this subject it is our view that such exigencies should be managed within an overall framework agreement with the employer side,” Ms King wrote.

“It is in this context that we have initiated discussions with IBEC on the subject and I understand a similar process is ongoing within the joint Public Services structures together with engagement on specific sectoral issues.”

The letter also urges the Government to ensure that adequate compliance mechanisms are put in place to ensure workers are safe when they return to the workplace.

ICTU also called for the Health and Safety Authority to put in place required workplace inspections to ensure places of work are safe, particularly when it comes to ventilation, social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment.

The Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 is due to meet tomorrow to consider the latest advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team, ahead of an announcement of the latest reopening plan next week.