Paid pandemic leave – what is it and why do we need it?

Published: 10/08/2020
Category: Analysis Covid-19 Workers rights
Published: 10/08/2020
Category: Analysis Covid-19 Workers rights

In what’s been an already devasting year, it’s fair to say Victorians have had an especially rough week.

Following weeks of rollercoaster COVID stats, the state has been forced to put in place the toughest restrictions Australia has seen so far.

The Stage 4 restrictions are a heavy blow for Victorian workers and businesses. Whole industries have been forced to close for 6 weeks, leaving thousands of Victorians without work.

For unions and industry groups, the surge in cases has highlighted the urgent need for paid pandemic leave – many fearing that if action isn’t taken now, the rest of Australia could soon be in the same position as Victoria.

Below we explain exactly what paid pandemic leave is, and why we so urgently need it.

What is Paid pandemic leave?

Paid pandemic leave is paid time off for workers who need to get tested or self-isolate because they have coronavirus symptoms or have come in close contact with a confirmed case.

Provided in addition to any existing leave entitlement, paid pandemic leave would be available to all working people and funded by the Commonwealth.
Australian Unions have already won paid pandemic leave for aged care workers. Now they are calling on the Federal Government to extend the leave to cover every worker – and they’re not alone.

A poll conducted for the ACTU in July found that that 80.8% of Australians want the Morrison Government to provide paid pandemic leave for all workers.

Key industry groups are also supporting the campaign. In an open letter to the Federal Government, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia Jennifer Westacott, joined forces with ACTU Secretary Sally McManus to demand paid pandemic leave, writing, “Paid pandemic leave is now an essential public health measure that will combat the recent spike in workplace transmission in Victoria”.

Why do we need Paid Pandemic Leave?

The overwhelming majority of new COVID cases in Australia have been linked to workplaces. This highlights that there are still a number of workers who are attending work whilst infectious or at risk.

Currently, under Australia’s National Employment Standards, all permanent employees are entitled to sick and carers’ leave. But this entitlement excludes casual workers.

Recent polls have shown up to 44% of Australian workers have no paid leave because they are in insecure work. Many more have used their leave entitlements during the first six months of this pandemic.

“To control and live with this virus we need to ensure that all working people feel 100 per cent supported to isolate and stay at home when they need to”, explains Ms McManus.
“The Morrison Government must commit to providing paid pandemic leave for all working people – at 100% of their wages, whenever they are tested or have to isolate. This is essential in stopping the spread of the virus”.

What about the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment?

The recently announced ‘Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment’ is a step forward but it will not fix the hole in our COVID-19 defences.

The payment is available to people living in Victoria who are without income because they need to self-isolate. But the one-off $1500 payment falls drastically short of a paid pandemic leave scheme.

“Any money for workers who are saving lives and saving jobs by staying home and doing the right thing is welcome, but this payment does not address the full scale of the problems which fully funded paid pandemic leave would address”, say Ms McManus.

“We need to do better. We need to do everything we reasonably can. The Morrison Government cannot stop at this half-measure. We need federally funded paid pandemic leave for all workers who need to get tested and isolate. That’s how we ensure that this pandemic ends as quickly as possible with as few people infected as possible”.

Not sure what support is available to you during the pandemic? Contact the Australian Unions Support Centre for advice.

Paid pandemic leave – what is it and why do we need it?

Paid pandemic leave – what is it and why do we need it?