Sick Pay proposals must be stronger

25 January 2021
  • Won’t be full pay, will not cover illness of two or less days and will be only two weeks in duration.
  • Labour Party Bill was delayed for six months.
  • Huge public support for Paid Sick Leave.

Responding to reports on the likely details of a statutory sick pay scheme, Labour Employment spokesperson Marie Sherlock said it was essential that Ireland not remain an outlier on pay and duration.

Senator Sherlock said:

“The Labour Party originally brought forward a bill in September for a statutory paid sick leave scheme, and in our alternative budget proposals we put forward a funded scheme to support employers, and targeted measures specifically for workers in meat factories and the childcare sector. Unfortunately the Government voted to delay our bill for six months, but details of what is being planned have started to leak out.

“What is emerging now is that the government’s sick pay scheme will only be for two weeks, and capped at a percentage of earnings. That is simply not good enough, and will amount to little more than the existing illness benefit scheme.

“Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic what has been clear is that lower paid and insecure workers have bourne the brunt of the economic impacts of the virus, like in meat plants, hospitality and contract frontline healthcare workers.

“The lack of statutory sick leave is a fundamental weakness in our fight against the pandemic. 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.

“It is our understanding that half of private sector workers still do not have a guaranteed right to be paid if they fall ill and have to self-isolate.

“Sick pay should be a fundamental right of all workers. 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.

“The aim of our bill was 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 must ensure that workers are never expected to choose between their wages and their health.”

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