Sick pay can’t wait six months

Senator Marie Sherlock
22 September 2020

Responding to the Government’s plan to delay a decision on Labour’s sick pay proposals by at least six months, Labour’s spokesperson on Employment Affairs Senator Marie Sherlock said:

“The lack of statutory sick leave is a fundamental weakness in our fight against the pandemic. We can’t wait six months for a public consultation when a second wave is underway. We are more likely to see a vaccine delivered sooner than a government proposal on sick pay after a public consultation.

“Ensuring sick pay for all is not just a vital question of worker’s rights; it is the essential missing piece in our strategy against Covid-19. At any other time, we would have an obligation to ensure every worker has a right to paid sick leave. But during a pandemic, we have a special duty to guarantee sick pay as soon as possible in the name of public health.

“We are now six months on from the first case of Covid-19 in Ireland, and we understand half of private sector workers still do not have a guaranteed right to be paid if they fall ill and have to self-isolate. If the Government insists we wait six months more to address the problem, it will seriously undermine the chance of safe and fair recovery.

“By kicking the can down the road and delaying Labour’s suggestions, the Government would also let down working parents who need paid leave if their children are sent home from school or childcare to self-isolate. The longer we delay in providing for this right, the more parents, especially working mothers, will be put in impossible situations between their work obligations and the need to care for their children.

“Sick pay should be a fundamental right of all workers, and yet Ireland has no statutory sick pay policy. Private sector workers are entirely dependent on the benevolence of their employer to pay them when they are ill; and we understand that only a minority currently choose to do so. Those worst affected tend to be on lower income and in certain essential sectors: for instance, SIPTU’s Big Start survey has identified that just 16% of childcare workers have paid sick leave.

“We shouldn’t make the mistake of viewing paid sick leave as an extravagance, especially when we are fighting to overcome a pandemic. Across the EU, 22 countries already have a statutory right to sick pay, as does the UK. Ireland is one of only five EU members that doesn’t recognise this essential right.

“Labour’s new Bill seeks to make sure that no worker will be out of pocket when they fall ill. We want to do away with the difficult choice between going into work while sick, or else losing a portion of their income. We simply cannot find a way to overcome Covid-19 if workers who have symptoms are penalised for staying home.

“We only need look at the recent developments in meat processing plants, where as few as 10% of workers have access to sick pay, to see the awful consequences of failure to act.

“Likewise, we have already seen a number of schools and childcare providers sending children home to self-isolate. This presents a real challenge for working parents, and Labour’s Bill proposes to extend force majeure leave to allow parents time off work for essential caring duties.

“Only with swift and decisive action by Government can we ensure that workers are never expected to choose between their wages and their health.”

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