Thousands of seasonal workers in the tourism industry, who lost their jobs before they were about to start them, do not qualify for new Covid-19 unemployment payments.

That is according to the Irish Hotel's Federation who is calling on the Government for "sector specific supports" so the workers are not left behind.

"We believe sector specific supports are going to be required to ensure that seasonal workers, particularly those with a proven employment history, are not going to be left behind," Tim Fenn, Chief Executive of the Irish Hotels Federation, told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.  

The issue revolves around seasonal workers who lost their jobs before they started for the 2020 tourist season not qualifying for the €350 Covid-19 unemployment payment.

Many of these workers are employed in hotels, restaurants and pubs around the country when the tourism season is booming, but end up on social welfare when it goes in to hibernation for the winter.

If the workers were not employed by 29 February of this year, they do not qualify for the Covid-19 unemployment payment.

However, workers argue they were only due to start work after that date because the tourist season generally starts from April onwards.

Linda Glynn, a table server at the Vaughan Lodge Hotel's restaurant in Lahinch in County Clare, told Morning Ireland the situation was very stressful.

"We were due to open on 9 April. We work seasonally. Our season runs from April to October. The seasonal workers in Ireland have fallen through the loop because we weren’t employed before, or on, the 29 February. We are not entitled to the Covid-19 payment," she said.  

"They are forgetting that we have lost a job that was due to start," she added.

During the winter period when tourism goes in to hibernation, Linda gets a jobseeker's benefit of €205, plus an additional payment of €34 for her child. She depends on her seasonal work to balance her books every year.

She said: "For myself, and a lot of other people as well, we would have budgeted to get through the winter knowing that we would be back to work. That is where the problem is now.

"If they don't give us the Covid-19 payment there is going to be a lot of shortage because we should be back on full wage by now"

"There are still direct debits coming out. There are still loans and utilities to be paid for and we would have banked having our job. To have more, to have a wage to be worth more than the €239 a week to cover these expenses and that’s where we are landed on now.

"I am stressing at the moment. Like a lot of others they are stressing too. I know a lot of my colleagues in the hotel. If they don’t give us the Covid-19 payment there is going to be a lot of shortage because we should be back on full wage by now. It is a lot of stress to be honest with you."

Linda's employer, Michael Vaughan, who employs 20 people at his family owned Vaughan Lodge Hotel in Lahinch, says the Government needs to take a second look at Covid-19 unemployment payments for workers like Linda because it has knock-on implications for rural Ireland and the west coast.

Mr Vaughan said his main concern were his workers' welfare.

"My main concern is for the staff that I employ year after year because here in the coastal communities people depend on seasonal income. It is very much an area where there is no other industry," said Mr Vaughan.

"The people who have been out of work over winter, and been on basic social welfare entitlement, were looking forward - this week and next week - to coming in to full employment for the summer and to enjoy that employment right up until the month of November. Now that is all gone.

"Under the new scheme for the Covid-19 they would have had to be in employment with me on February 29th. It’s an anomaly in the current set up that people that I was due to take on and hire - this week and next week - cannot now enjoy the benefit of the full payment for the COVID-19 from the social welfare department.

"This is an unfortunate time of the year that this has happened in. If it had been a couple of weeks later all my staff would be entitled to this Covid-19 payment. I can understand where the government is coming from.

"The fact is that these incomes are incomes that are vitally important to these small communities, small villages and towns up along the coast. If people are to be disadvantaged, it disadvantages the wider economy. I think what’s happening now, in terms of the Government’s idea on this, is that they will support all of the nation equally and I think it deserves a second look."

The Irish Hotels Federation is concerned and Mr Fenn said the federation does not want seasonal workers, with a proven employment history, being left behind.

"We very much appreciate that the government and the relevant department officials are working at breakneck speed to fine tune details around employment support schemes. Their efforts are making a real difference for people right across the country," said Mr Fenn.

"What's happening is an emergency response to an unprecedented situation; and that it is making the greatest possible impact in the shortest possible time"

Asked about whether the 29 February qualification date for the COVID-19 unemployment payment should be changed, Mr Fenn responded: "The Government are working on the details around the various schemes, and their efforts have been really appreciated, and we just believe there is a little bit more that needs to happen to ensure that those people that would normally be expected to be taken on in the coming weeks are being looked after as well."

A spokesperson for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said: "What's happening is an emergency response to an unprecedented situation; and that it is making the greatest possible impact in the shortest possible time."

In relation to the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment, the department said in a statement it was intended to compensate workers who have suddenly lost their jobs. 

It added regular social welfare payments are being maintained at full value; and that if people have an exceptional need they can still contact their social welfare offices and look for a social needs payment or a supplementary allowance.

The statement read:

"The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is an emergency payment of €350 per week intended to provide money for people who have suddenly lost income due to the current Covid 19 challenge. It was  introduced by the Government for a 12 week period and intended to compensate those workers whose employers cannot retain them on their payroll. The payment will also be made to people who are self-employed but whose trade has temporarily ceased.

"In order to ensure a minimum level of payment during the exceptional period of Covid-19  the State has guaranteed a minimum payment to all workers to compensate for loss of income due to Covid-19 for up to 12 weeks.

"Regular Social Welfare payments are being maintained at full value. The Jobseeker’s payments usually paid to seasonal workers who had been claiming a Jobseeker’s payment immediately before Covid-19 remain unaffected and will continue to be paid for the period they are unemployed.

"For some individuals on the regular schemes, their family circumstances mean that they may receive a higher rate on a Jobseeker’s payment instead of the COVID-19 Payment. 

"This includes:

Eligible individuals who have at least one adult and one child dependant. 

Eligible individuals who have four or more child dependants.

The rate payable on Jobseeker’s Benefit is:

· €203 personal rate

· €147 increase for a dependent spouse/partner

· €36 increase for each child dependant under age 12 years

· €40 increase for each child dependant over age 12 years."