Is paid pandemic leave a solution for workers to self-isolate?

Is paid pandemic leave
a solution for workers
to self-isolate?

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) last week refused a claim by Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to pay health care workers pandemic leave. The pandemic leave claim was designed to encourage workers to self-isolate if they have even mild symptoms of the corona virus. The FWC maintained the scheme would be too expensive for healthcare employers.

The concern of the ACTU was that many workers who work in casual positions in the health care sector are continuing to flout the rules to stay home if they suspect they are carrying the virus, as they cannot afford to miss work. As a result of this concern the ACTU is now arguing for a broader and more expensive pandemic leave scheme to support casual workers who have no leave entitlements.

This is a serious dilemma for the government. If it refuses to support the ACTU claim on behalf of casual workers those same workers will be tempted to continue working while suffering from COVID-19. Those workers cannot afford to stop work unless there is some government support financially to help them survive while being unable to work.

The Victorian Government is already providing payments of $1500 for people unable to work due to quarantine or self-isolation requirements, but they are the only state government to date which is doing so. NSW has not followed Victoria.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry are opposing any requests for employers to offer pandemic leave to employees, maintaining that businesses could not afford the cost and that it would affect the viability of their businesses. Where possible sick leave should be used as a viable alternative.

There is some light on the horizon for casual workers as the FWC could possibly revisit the bid for paid pandemic leave if there was a threat to the resilience of the health care system.

The Labor Party is supporting the idea of paid pandemic leave, whether paid for by government or employers.

Paid pandemic leave could at least make the choice easier for casual workers to stay at home if they know they have the virus. It would appear to be a clever idea to prevent the virus spreading further into the community through casual contact.

Annie Young

12/07/2020