The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called on the federal government to urgently legislate two weeks paid leave for all workers, including permanent, casual or part-time, forced to self-isolate as a result of the escalating coronavirus.
Under the plan, workers would also be eligible for the guaranteed paid leave in the event they have to take time off due to business downturn or their workplace closing for a period of time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making the announcement at ACTU’s Executive meeting in Merimbula today, Secretary Sally McManus said Australia’s trade union movement unanimously voted to support the push to safeguard the livelihoods of vulnerable workers and protect the public’s health.
“It is absolutely necessary because we need to make sure that working people are not infecting each other or the general community,” she said.
“It’s absolutely necessary also to make sure that working people have money in their pockets all the time. We’re the people that keep the economy going.”
Asked to respond to arguments made by the government earlier this week that casual workers receive a loading to make up for the fact that they don’t accumulate sick leave, Ms McManus labelled the view ridiculous.
“It’s absolutely outrageous and so out of touch that our government could say that casual workers should have been putting aside money to prepare for a pandemic. It is ridiculous,” she said.
“Most casual workers work from pay cheque to pay cheque. They won’t be able to pay their rent. They won’t be able to pay their bills. Casual workers don’t earn much more than permanent workers. Research shows this.”
With Federal Parliament resuming in coming weeks, Ms McManus said the issue warranted being listed as the number one item of business.
She refused to be drawn on what the plan would cost, instead pointing out that the economic impacts of the coronavirus spreading would be far worse than enabling people to self-isolate without being financially disadvantaged.
“The most important thing for public health is to ensure everyone knows that if they have to self-isolate that there is not going to be a financial penalty for them and their family,” Ms McManus said.
“If working people are forced to choose between going to work sick or being able to pay their bills and feed their families then we are creating a disaster scenario for public health.”
Speaking in Merimbula, Acting ANMF Federal Secretary Lori-Anne Sharp welcomed the federal government’s $2.4 billion coronavirus health package, announced this morning, which includes support for additional aged care staff, keeping the health and aged care sectors informed, and providing up-to-date clinical guidance and new resources such as the development of an app.
“We know that [aged care] facilities currently don’t have a registered nurse 24 hours around the clock so we would be making sure that money is spent on registered nurses in aged care facilities as a matter of urgency,” she said.
The ANMF fully supports the ACTU’s call for two weeks paid special leave, saying that frontline healthcare workers such as nurses, midwives and carers should not be disadvantaged by having to stay away from work as a result of the coronavirus.
“This is a potential health emergency which is evolving every day,” Ms Sharp said.
“With nurses making up over 50% of the health workforce, the ANMF wants to ensure that employers are not making nurses and carers use their personal leave if they need to be in quarantine.
“As the frontline of the health and aged care systems, they deserve some type of compensation for being exposed to coronavirus. We believe compensation for being off work for a 14-day period, the length of isolation, would be a practical start.”