The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has intensified its calls for the federal government to urgently introduce nationwide paid pandemic leave for Australians affected by COVID-19.
ACTU President Michelle O’Neil will give evidence at the Senate Inquiry into the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Canberra this afternoon, using the platform to reiterate its push for two weeks paid pandemic leave for all employees, including casuals, who contract the virus or are forced to self-isolate.
The ACTU has welcomed pandemic leave schemes introduced in Queensland and Victoria but says the federal government is lagging behind in its duty to provide “essential leave entitlements for working people” across the country.
On Sunday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that Victorians diagnosed with the virus, or told to self-isolate because of close contact with a confirmed case, will have access to a $1,500 payment if they do not have access to paid sick leave through their employer.
Queensland announced a similar $1,500 fund for workers impacted by COVID-19 last month.
“Pandemic leave is essential to beating the virus. If people are forced to work when they are sick we will continue to see new waves of workplace infection,” ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said.
“How can we fully recover from the virus while we are still forcing workers – disproportionately women and young people – to go to work when they should stay home, get tested and protect themselves and the community?”
Ms O’Neil will tell the Inquiry the government was slow to act in introducing a wage subsidy in response to COVID-19 and has failed to expand the system to people excluded or extend it beyond September, despite underspending by $60 billion.
The government has also failed to address the gaps the pandemic has exposed in the country’s OHS system and ignored the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on young people and women, who have lost the majority of jobs and hours since the beginning of the shutdown, she will argue.
“Calls to expand and extend JobKeeper, provide pandemic lave, close loopholes in the OHS system and provide support for women and young people have fallen on deaf ears,” Ms O’Neil said.
“We have seen two of the biggest states introduce a form of paid support for workers without paid leave entitlements to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and to encourage testing and isolation yet the Morrisson Government refuses to help the more than three million Australians at risk of falling ill and potentially spreading the virus without access to sick leave.”