Anger over UK’s ‘poverty sick pay’ after Boris Johnson tells Britons to learn from ‘disciplined’ Germans

PM condemned for ‘crass’ comparison to Germany, where workers get full pay for eight weeks when ill

Aisha Rimi
Tuesday 22 February 2022 15:50
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19 per cent of workers’ salaries is covered by sick pay in the UK in comparison to 100 per cent in Germany

Boris Johnson has sparked anger from unions and fuelled calls for improved sick pay rates after telling Britons to “learn” from “disciplined” Germans by remaining off work when ill.

The prime minister’s comments came during a Downing Street press conference in which he announced plans to lift coronavirus restrictions and move towards the UK “living with Covid”

Asked about his decision to end Covid support packages and force those sick with the virus to wait until the fourth day of their ilness before they can claim statutory sick pay, Mr Johnson said: “In this country, I often heard it said over the last couple of years that we have a habit of going back to work or going into work when we are not well.”

“People contrast that with Germany for instance where I am told they are much more disciplined about not going into work if you are sick and I’m suggesting that is something we could learn.”

Union leaders were quick to point out stark differences between the UK, which has one of the lowest sick pay rates in Europe, and Germany, which has among the highest.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Boris Johnson could learn much from Olaf Scholz’s government. Sick workers in Germany receive their full wages if they’re poorly. Here many employees are expected to survive on less than £96 a week or nothing in some cases.

“If the prime minister wants people to do the right thing and stay home to stop the virus spread, fixing the UK’s busted sick pay system should be a top priority.”

In the UK, employees are entitled to only £96.35 per week in statutory sick pay. In Germany, workers receive 100 per cent of their earnings for eight weeks..

Only employees earning at least £120 a week qualify for SSP in the UK, which Trade Union Congress (TUC) research concluded left around 2 million low-paid workers, mostly women, excluded from the benefit.

In 2020, OECD analysis also found that UK employees with Covid received the lowest rates of mandatory SSP among member states.

Dan Shears, GMB national health and safety director, said: “Comparing the UK to German workers is a bad joke – German workers can afford to stay at home when they need to because they have proper sick pay protection.

“Making this crass statement at the same time as taking protections away adds insult to injury. Asking people to exercise responsibility whilst taking away a key workplace provision for them to do that just shows how incompetent this government is.

“The UK’s poverty statutory sick pay rates, among the lowest in Europe, are a public health hazard as workers cannot afford to stay home when they are ill. The situation will be made even worse in April when SSP is cut in real terms against a backdrop of rampant inflation. Restoring the three-day limit is an act of national self-sabotage. It’s time for wholesale reform of statutory sick pay rates.”

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