Good news for workers without paid sick leave: the Albanese Government has restored the $750 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.
There were 776,000 people who missed work in June due to sickness, and as new variants emerge that number is expected to grow with many expected to become reinfected with COVID.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus welcomed the reverse of the federal government’s plan to remove the payment.
“PM Albanese has made the right decision to protect workers and businesses by restoring Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments. The previous Morrison Government should never have set the finish date in the middle of winter,” she said.
With the payment back in action, workers will no longer have to choose between isolating when ill with COVID or putting food on the table.
“You can’t on one hand say people have got to stay at home and on the other hand say you’re not going to get paid,” McManus said.
Now that we have entered a third wave of COVID with new variants causing increasing reinfection, many workers who have find themselves without employer sick leave. But with the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, there will be some financial support available.
Corporate profiteering the leading driver of the cost-of-living crisis
The decision to reinstate the payment comes at a crucial time for workers who are facing the rising costs of everyday necessities while wage growth lags behind inflation.
New research from The Australia Institute has shown that Australian companies have been banking their record profits rather than use them to shield consumers from cost increases.
Not only are big business contributing to the financial stress of millions of Australians but their refusal to absorb cost increases is the leading driver of inflation.
ACTU President Michele O’Neil called out the hypocrisy of businesses who have argued against raising wages for even the lowest paid workers.
“While they are warning that the sky will fall in if wages keep pace with inflation they are creating an inflationary cycle by pocketing record profits and paying out record bonuses to CEOs who refuse to increase pay for their workers,” she said.
Wage growth could be an engine of economic growth in a country that relies so heavily on domestic consumption. We should be sharing the recovery from the pandemic across the whole economy, not letting big business fuel inflation by funnelling it into offshore bank accounts and CEO bonuses.
In 2021, we saw Australian CEOs earn 100 times more than the average worker. Their bonuses alone hit a new record high, averaging $2.31 million.
Workers strongest with enterprise bargaining
“Our system is broken when big business is setting records for profits and bonuses, but workers’ pay hasn’t increased in real terms for nearly a decade,” O’Neil said.
When we’ve seen the best wage growth for workers is when we’ve had a strong bargaining system in Australia.
Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) are where workers come together as a collective and negotiate with their employer for pay rises and better working conditions in exchange for improved productivity. Today, around a third of all workers are covered by an EBA.
EBAs are required to offer better conditions overall than the relevant award that would otherwise apply. In other words, they are good news for workers looking for better wages.
Australia’s bargaining system has mostly stopped delivering the wage growth necessary for workers to keep up with inflation due to employers finding loopholes and avoiding real worker consultation.
But despite these setbacks, workers in unions continue to earn, on average, $250 more per week than non-union members.
Union members have been standing up for bargaining rights and pushing back against employer attempts to dilute hard-won pay and conditions achieved through EBAs.
Bargaining works best when employees are organised – that means workers joining together in their union and standing with each other.
Cover photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio