09/03/2020 - Coronavirus outbreak: Unions win the argument for day one sick pay

coronavirus-4817450 640The government has finally taken steps to ensure that workers who are forced to self-isolate due to the Coronavirus outbreak will receive Statutory Sick Pay from day one of absence in response to union demands.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is an important step forward for working people. But it’s not enough.

“Two million workers still don’t earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay. They can’t afford not to work. And statutory sick pay still isn’t enough to live on.

“Government must go further to ensure that no one is penalised for doing the right thing.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “It’s good to see the government listening and acting to allay people’s fears, but it needs to go much further, and quickly.

“This move won’t help care staff whose employers are telling them they won’t get paid at all if they go into isolation.

“Nor will it provide comfort to workers on zero-hours contracts, or those with multiple jobs bringing in less than the £118 weekly threshold at which sick pay kicks in.

“Workers self-isolating shouldn’t have to take a financial hit for doing the right thing. They should be paid in full, with the government stepping in to help out struggling smaller employers.

“Every boss in the land should be following government advice and paying everyone who thinks they’ve come into contact with coronavirus and sensibly intends to do the right thing.

“People shouldn’t be faced with a choice of making ends meet or following public health advice and helping prevent the spread of the virus. The lives and livelihoods of vulnerable patients and staff must come before profits.”

Prospect has said the government’s plan to remove the three-day wait for statutory sick pay is not good enough.

General secretary Mike Clancy said: “While welcome this move will do little to help freelancers and the self-employed, who will be some of the hardest hit by self-isolation.

“Most cannot access Statutory Sick Pay, so will still be faced with the dilemma of no pay or going to work when it may be putting their colleagues at risk.

“This simply isn’t good enough. The government must recognise the risk to everyone posed by this and put in place proper support for these workers.”

There has been no help provided for the millions of workers who are not eligible for statutory sick pay and those who cannot afford to live on a lower income.

Statutory sick pay is currently only provided for those who earn above the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week, which is likely to exclude some zero-hour contract and part-time workers.

Those who earn above this threshold may still find themselves short-changed by Statutory Sick Pay, as the amount they are legally eligible to receive while off ill is significantly below the National Minimum Wage at less than £100 per week.

Finally, so-called ‘gig workers’, most of whom are anticipated to be misclassified as ‘self-employed’ and therefore excluded from claiming any workers’ rights have no entitlement to sick pay, regardless of how much they earn.

The Department for Work and Pensions told gig workers to stop working if they are ill and claim Universal Credit – a move that would leave them waiting for up to five weeks for any form of income.

The RMT has also demanded that should transport workers be absent as a result of self-isolation or having contracted the Coronavirus that this absence will not be counted against, nor trigger, any sickness absence procedure. This is something that Solidarity believes should apply to all workers.

Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity commented: "This outbreak has revealed both the weakness and injustice of current sick pay arrangements. We don't need half measures but a root and branch overhaul. Anything less will lead to people reporting for work when they shouldn't and spreading the virus. The government will be responsible for deaths caused by this. The unions are doing a great public service in sounding the alarm and everyone needs to understand their warning and act quickly to put things right."

This article was first published in British Worker the weekly internal newsletter of the Solidarity union.