Pat McCormack, deputy president of the ICMSA
While welcoming changes to Farm Assist and the inclusion of additional PRSI benefits to self-employed announced in Budget 2017 are welcome improvements for farmers, more needs to be done, according to the ICMSA.
There were still a number of outstanding issues which needed to be addressed in terms of equity for the self-employed, and it was also increasingly evident that flexibilities must be introduced to the social protection system to encourage additional and seasonal employment in the farming sector, said deputy president Pat McCormack.
He was speaking following a meeting between iCMSa and the Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar.
The Tipp Town farmer acknowledged that Budget 2017 provided for the introduction of the Invalidity Pension from December 2017 for the self-employed but the ICMSA deputy president noted that there was a significant difficulty on family farms when a farmer got an injury or illness which prevented him or her from working for a number of weeks or months in a situation where the self-employed have no recourse to Illness Benefit.
The Minister acknowledged the financial difficulty this situation would present for the family farms concerned and agreed to examine this matter in forthcoming Budgets, said Mr McCormack.
“Unfortunately, accidents and illness happen on farms like any other business and the PRSI system should be enhanced further to provide protections to farmers and other self employed people where they have an accident or illness of a short-term nature,” said Mr McCormack
He also raised the issue of the availability of casual labour on family farms particularly during the busy spring period and told Minister Varadkar that a major contributory factor to the difficulty around finding seasonal workers was the concern of individuals in receipt of Jobseekers allowance that they may find it difficult to reactivate their social welfare benefit once this seasonal work has concluded.
The Minister confirmed to ICMSA that provisions were in place to address this issue whereby such individuals would have their social welfare benefits reactivated once they come back into the system within a certain period.
He said that his officials would engage with all recipients of such benefit outlining their entitlements, etc in the event of them taking on short-term employment.
Mr McCormack welcomed this but he said that further flexibilities were required in relation to part-time work for people qualifying for Jobseekers Allowance that would allow people to work a number of hours each day rather than three fixed days.
These would certainly help the situation on farms and would also generate additional employment in rural areas.
Mr. Mc Cormack urged the Minister to continue amending the social welfare system so that self-employed people were treated equitably.
He asked that Minister Varadkar look again at the rules on Jobseekers Allowance in a way that would encourage and facilitate people to take up seasonal and short-term employment opportunities and also help very hard pressed and time-pressurised farmers.