Coronavirus: Unions call for all workers to receive sick pay if outbreak keeps them home

Almost half of workers would be unable to meet basic needs on statutory payment if kept home two weeks on quarantine, says TUC

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 09 March 2020 07:33
Comments
Coronavirus and sick pay explained

Unions have issued a call for all workers affected by coronavirus to be given sick pay, amid fears that the disease could be spread by employees who turn up despite feeling ill because they cannot afford time off.

And the TUC called for an increase in the £94.50-a-week payment, warning that almost half of workers would not be able to cover basic living expenses if forced to rely on statutory sick pay (SSP) during a two-week coronavirus quarantine period.

An estimated 2 million employees are currently ineligible for (SSP), which is available to those earning at least £118 a week. And the self-employed and gig workers are not entitled to any support if they stay away from work because of illness.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the government should immediately reform the system so it covers “all workers at a decent rate”.

She cited new YouGov polling for the TUC, which found that an overwhelming 85 per cent of people believe all workers should get sick pay if affected by coronavirus.

The government has said up to 20 per cent of the workforce could be off sick or self-isolating during the peak of an epidemic.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson announced that emergency legislation would ensure workers forced to stay home would get sick pay from day one – rather than having to wait four days as now – telling the House of Commons: “Nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing."

But it was unclear whether employers would be helped with the payments, and Mr Johnson suggested that workers who are not entitled to SSP could claim support from Universal Credit.

The current rate of SSP would provide a worker who did not receive additional help from his or her employer with just £189 to live on during a two-week quarantine - a loss of £800 over that period for someone on average earnings.

The YouGov poll found that 48 per cent of workers would not be able to cover their housing costs, bills and living expenses on this sum.

And a further 27 per cent said they would have to cut their spending on other things in order to meet basic financial commitments.

The TUC is calling on government to increase the rate of SSP in line with the Real Living Wage, and supports the creation of an emergency fund to assist employers with the cost and to cover workers not currently eligible.

Those ineligible for the payments include 34 per cent of all workers on zero-hours contracts, one in 10 female workers, more than a fifth of those aged 18-24 and more than a quarter of those aged over 65, according to TUC analysis.

John McDonnell

Ms O’Grady said: “A massive majority of voters agree that no one should be left out of pocket because they’ve done the right thing and followed government health advice.

“But currently, many people won’t even be able to cover their rent and bills if they fall ill or have to take time off.

“Government needs to stop making excuses and immediately reform sick pay legislation so it covers all workers at a decent rate.

“It’s the sensible way to give working families the security they need – and to protect public health.

“And nothing is stopping employers doing the right thing right now, and pledging that any worker who has to self-isolate on medical advice, or who gets sick, will get full pay while they’re off work.”

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: "It’s unacceptable that some of the lowest paid workers to self-isolate will be forced to make a choice between their health and financial hardship.

"The Government’s emergency legislation must guarantee that the right to sick pay from day one will include those people who are not currently eligible for statutory sick pay, and that no-one on social security will be sanctioned if they miss appointments."

YouGov polled more than 2,000 British adults between 4 and 6 March.

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