Without paid sick leave return to work precarious for most

20 September 2021

Labour employment spokesperson Marie Sherlock has said it is a disgrace that workers throughout the country are expected to return to the workplace without any guarantee of paid sick leave. Highlighting the challenges ahead for both workers and employers, Senator Sherlock said at this delicate time for the workplace, the Government must fast-track Labour legislation to provide for sick pay for all.

Senator Sherlock said:

“There has been much jubilation about the return to the workplace, however Government is leaving workers in an extremely vulnerable position without paid sick leave. Covid has not gone away and many workers will be concerned about the return to the workplace. While employers will have done their best to make workplaces safer, we are all well aware of the transmissibility of the Delta variant and how quickly it can spread throughout any indoor environment.

“We understand that as many as half of all private sector workers do not have a guaranteed right to be paid if they fall ill which is simply unacceptable as people return to the office. The reality is, outbreaks may occur and workers, through no fault of their own, may become sick. In this precarious context, Government must do better for workers and guarantee them a right to be paid if they fall ill.

“The reality for most people is they can’t afford to be sick – bills still need to be paid, mouths still need to be fed. So we need to break this cycle of people having to choose between going into work while sick, or else losing a portion of their income. This is a crucial question of workers’ rights, but it is also the essential missing piece in our strategy against Covid-19. During a pandemic, we have a special duty to guarantee sick pay as soon as possible in the name of public health.

“We are at a very delicate time in our Covid journey and the world of work has changed entirely. Workplaces will faces challenges ahead, managing vaccinated workers and unvaccinated, making accommodations for people in the physical workplace as well as scheduling different routines. Other than a memo to cabinet in June, the Government has been entirely silent on introducing paid sick leave for workers throughout Ireland.

“In fact, the Government’s memo set sick pay at 70% of earnings; this simply isn’t good enough for the lowest-paid workers in our society who rely on every cent they earn to make ends meet. Ireland has one of the highest rates of low pay in the OECD, second only to the United States. If these workers fall ill, they should never have to choose between their health or their income. But for many, a 30% pay cut for taking legitimate sick leave will leave them in an impossible situation. Labour’s Bill would ensure that every person is entitled to 100% pay when they fall ill.

“Sick pay is not a luxury. 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. Not only should people not come to work while sick, we need to ensure that they don’t to avoid outbreaks in the workplace. The Government has a responsibility to employees, employers and to communities to introduce mandatory paid sick leave.”

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